Landmark healthcare centre created for Coventry

Published: 13-Jan-2012

Architects behind £22.5m scheme speak about designing a new blueprint for healthcare delivery

Construction of Coventry’s new health centre is complete, paving the way for the opening of the 10,081sq m development.

The £22.5m Coventry Healthcare Centre was designed by Sonnemann Toon Architects and commissioned by Coventry Care Partnership for NHS Coventry.

Built by Galliford Try, it is due to open this month, offering a wide range of facilities including GP practices, a walk-in clinic, podiatry, physiotherapy, child and family services, and a sexual health service.

Set on an island site, the building is fully visible to the public on all four elevations. This prominent position is in line with NHS Coventry’s aspiration to have a welcoming and accessible facility, which will not only provide a walk-in centre open until 10pm and out-of-hours GP services, but will also encourage people to take part in health activities and programmes.

The ground floor consists of a ‘street’, linking two facing entrances on opposite sides of the building. The feature has been designed to feel like an extension of the surrounding urban fabric.

The building’s size meant that architects needed to avoid the criticism directed at many health buildings, which are seen as monolithic and repetitive structures. They addressed this problem in two ways. The floor plates cantilever past each other, breaking up the volume and creating a pattern of light and shadow. The juxtaposed plates also reference movement, both in terms of Coventry’s historic industry and a metaphor for the transition from an industrial past to the contemporary city it is today.

Externally, coloured panels have been used to break up the facades, bringing them in line with the scale of the domestic buildings that face the centre. These coloured panels contrast with the horizontal bands of white render to create an interesting and harmonious feature. The external colours also refer back to the city’s industrial past, in shades of iron, copper and brick.

Internally, the offset between the floors has allowed the architects to create a variety of public spaces around the repeating modules of the clinical consultation and treatment rooms. Orientation has been facilitated through the legible arrangement of services, with patient waiting areas and department entrances repeated in the same location on each floor. Where multiple services are located a single waiting space, overlooked by a shared reception, unifies the various entrances, simplifying a patient’s navigation on arrival via the lift or stairs.

The vast majority of the clinical rooms have been designed at a standard size of 16sq m, allowing a change in use as the requirements of the building alter over time.

“We have built in as much flexibility as possible so that the centre will not be locked into the service provision of today when it needs to address the needs of tomorrow,” said Cressida Toon, partner at Sonnemann Toon Architects. “As a result of the cantilevering floor plates, each floor is different in plan and there is also considerable variation in the section of the building. This has enabled us to provide larger spaces, such as the lofty and welcoming street, and also more intimate areas where patients can wait and enjoy a feeling of privacy. We have used light wells to provide natural light and ventilation to deep plan areas of the building.’

The finishes are deliberately cool and minimal, with white walls, slate-grey floors and walnut doors. Sonnemann Toon worked with Frances Tobin, of Frances Tobin Design, to introduce flashes of colour, which are different on every floor. As with the exterior, these colours make reference to Coventry’s industrial history, with the colour for each level based on a different metal. The palette is both warm and subtle; a long way from the garish colours that often form the basis of a wayfinding strategy in healthcare buildings. These colours have been strategically picked out both on the walls to aid orientation and in the seating for each floor, helping to differentiate the services on each floor.

Cressida Toon said: “The signature colours on each floor were assigned to suit the user groups for that floor, in consultation with clinicians and the patient panel group. So, for example, copper was selected for the third floor as it is a warm re-assuring colour for adolescents and young adults, who are the main users of sexual health services. Steel has been used on the fourth floor because it is the most subdued and least likely to cause distress to young people with autism and mental health issues, who will be some of the users of the children’s services.”

The building has achieved a BREEAM ‘excellent’ rating, mainly through its of passive measures, including night purging to cool the building in summer, with air entering through secure ventilators. It was necessary to expose the concrete soffits to facilitate passive cooling, which has resulted in high ceiling heights instead of the usual suspended ceilings, adding to the airy feeling of the building. In addition, air-handling units incorporate high-efficiency thermal-wheel heat recovery and a gas-fired CHP plant supports the base thermal load of the building.

The project also has an integral arts programme, with commissions ranging from a five-storey lighting artwork on the exterior of the building, which was designed by Neil Musson, to digitally-printed vinyl wallpaper artworks on every floor.

Nikki Hopkins, general manager of Coventry Care Partnership, said: “We are thrilled that the design has allowed us to provide a landmark healthcare building for the people of Coventry while fulfilling our need for future flexibility and delivering a BREAAM ‘excellent’ rated building.”

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