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The Stirling Prize 2009

18 October 2009

Derek Thomson

Seeing as I’ve got a research team looking at benefits quantification in the healthcare sector, it’s been really interesting to see two health projects nominated for this year’s Stirling Prize.

Two completely different projects, however.  One – Kentish Town Health Centre – was an innovative NHS building, structured around the emerging “polyclinic” model.  This one was really interesting to me because the client advocated the need for a competent Design Champion.  It seemed like someone was really taking this OGC/DoH design guidance seriously, and the results speak for themselves.  The traditional design challenge of wayfinding had been overcome through symbolism and, above all else, the atmosphere of the building had been carefully managed to make patients feel at ease.

Kentish Town Health Centre

It was really interesting to see the doctors using the new space labelled as the “client” and not the procuring body.  This, plus the input and importance placed on the Design Champion role, made this project the winner for me.  They even had anecdotal evidence suggesting that Evidence Based Design had been realised, as patients were being more open with their doctors because they felt more comfortable and weren’t intimidated by the building, as is the norm.

The second health building was a Rogers building.  This was interesting because the design brief wasn’t complicated: build a Maggie’s centre using the metaphor of the home.  Just an designed and adaptable space seemed to win the judges over to the Rogers design and he won (again).  All very nice.  All very disappointing, to me at least.

Maggie’s Centre, London

What struck me most in the differences between these two healthcare projects was the identity of the client:  the first was the NHS as a public sector client which had taken great efforts to shed its prior design expectations and push for something better.  The second was a private charity client building to an establised brief, with the Architect left free to do what they wanted within that brief.  So we got one branded building and one that really explored its purpose and was well liked, with arguably demonstrable clinical benefits.  Shame the signature building won.

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