Phil Gusack Essay Prize Winner 2014

The Phil Gusack Essay Prize 2014 Winner and Shortlisted

At the AGM we were delighted to award the first Phil Gusack Essay prize with his sister, Pauline, proudly representing him in the audience. We think he would have approved. Of the thirteen entries four finalists were chosen and are published in full on the website. Three attended the meeting which was excellent. The fourth, Cecilia Gunning could not because she is resident in San Francisco. By the judges’ unanimous decision, she had been awarded this first essay prize and in the time honoured traditions of such awards ceremonies John Cooper had recorded a short interview with her via skype which was shown at the meeting.

Her essay entitled: Healthcare off the Grid: What we can learn from Food Truck Markets by Cecilia Gunning, was a snappy, well written and provocative piece about the increasing prevalence of transient urban transformations and the benefits they bring. It will be published digitally in the RIBA Journal. It describes how a non-descript highway in one of the most dangerous cities in the USA was transformed every week by a food truck market – ‘in the space of a day an urban desert becomes a vibrant community.’ Cecilia then takes this notion and applies it to healthcare architecture: ‘Just like Off the Grid can turn an empty parking lot into a bustling market, moveable structures can turn an empty space into a space for wellness. As architects, we can build on this idea of itinerant structures that roam the city transforming spaces. And with our ability to infuse space with meaning, we can design these structures to create experiences that inspire people to live healthier lives. We can take Off the Grid’s power to temporarily transform space a step further if the moveable structures we create leave a footprint behind after they’re gone, permanently transforming the space they occupied and leaving seeds of positive change.’

The first of the other finalists entitled ‘The single patient room is not the Only Option’, was written by Ryan Hullinger, Carl Yost and Brian Zealler and questioned this current dogma. Their reappraisal of multi bed accommodation was informed by a new hospital project they had undertaken in New Zealand in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake. Here the opportunities for socialisation which multi bed bays provide allowed the expression of more fundamental values in Maori culture to be accommodated –‘ Whanau’- the importance of group and family togetherness. It then opens up the question as to whether the international transfer and acceptance of certain standards is just another form of globalisation which pays little respect for differences in clinical and social cultures.

The second- Severe Acute Respiratory Cities – by Tom Lindsay was a very timely discussion about whether epidemics have become endemic to global cities. He recounts Hong Kong’s zero tolerance strategy to wipe out ‘unhygienic practices’ and transform the city, figuratively, into a giant social engineering machine designed to instil a new culture of hygiene, so that it might become the ‘clean room of Asia’. How can biosecurity extend beyond its present focus on railway stations and airports to a city wide presence? An interesting question which Tom answers: Biosecurity should therefore not treat buildings as merely stationary constructs, isolated from global trends and flows (people, capital and disease), but rather gateways into and out of cities: that if designed well can prepare cities, people and cultures for future epidemics.

The third – Ghandi and Bacon Sandwiches – by Paul Mercer is a mordant, humorous and highly critical look at the current state of the NHS after the most recent round of reforms and the almost absolute lack of aspiration and intellect on the part of the custodians of its estate. It is also a call to arms and more importantly a re-engagement by architects in the husbandry of this national asset. As Paul writes: ‘the willing and the reluctant, the certain and the unsure – a resurgence of a common interest in national, consistent, principled professional direction for the NHS estate. The conversation will need a champion – or a focus, and one which has the profile to draw in an interested or at least, curious, cohort – as Gandhi could. This is the NHS – it deserves excellence.’

John Cooper Chair of the judges for the inaugural Phil Gusack Essay Prize