Architecture rediscovers healthcare: Michael Hopkins’ Evelina Children’s Hospital in London.

Hospitals are the buildings that architecture forgot. They are quick-turnaround human repair shops, driven by targets set by politicians and accountants. Despite decades of firm evidence that a well-designed, agreeable hospital environment actually helps people to get better quicker, how many examples do you know like that? So it is good to find a new one that is streets ahead of the bog-standard product, yet costs the same. The £60m Evelina childrens’ hospital in London, by architect Sir Michael Hopkins, actually manages to raise your spirits.

Hopkins, these days, is not so much unfashionable as invisible. His buildings slip into existence almost unnoticed. This is a positive boon. Where the latest offerings by others of his generation such as his one-time boss Norman Foster or Richard Rogers still generate heated debate, Hopkins – the architect of the Glyndebourne opera house among much else – just gets on with it. His buildings are hard to categorise. Some are ethereally delicate like his famous curving grandstand at Lord’s cricket ground, others are dark brooding affairs like his Portcullis House for MPs at Westminster. Evelina, at St. Thomas’s Hospital just across the Thames from Portcullis House, is rightly enough from the lighter side of the Hopkins brain.

Now turned 70, Hopkins is enjoying something of an Indian summer. His 100-strong studio is going through a good patch. Some of this rejuvenation is down to a clutch of younger directors, among them Andrew Barnett and Pamela Bate, who have steered Evelina from a 1999 competition-winning design to the finished product today. It is remarkable just how like the competition scheme it has turned out. That is by no means always the case when harsh reality and grinding bureaucracy intervene. But Hopkins, Barnett and Bate had one thing very much in their favour. Most of the money for the hospital came directly from the Guy’s and St. Thomas’ charity. It is this charity – not the National Health Service or NHS – that wanted a pioneering piece of design rather than some ghastly lowest-common-denominator slab. They kept a tight rein on costs, but they thought positive. Their brief was a good one: this building should not feel like a hospital. That’s impossible, of course – having the window-cleaners dressed as Spiderman (true) can never disguise the function of such a place- but it was a good starting point. As a result, Evelina is reassuring, non-institutional, even fun.

There are about eight specialist children’s hospitals around the country. This one dates back to 1869, founded in Southwark by Ferdinand de Rothschild in memory of his young wife Evelina, who had died in childbirth. The Rothschild family remains connected to the hospital to this day. In recent years, however, it had lost its identity, becoming no more than a few wards split between St. Thomas and Guy’s hospitals. Now it is once again a building in its own right.

Just like its 19th century predecessor, it cheap jerseys is stacked up on an awkward site, in this case right on the busy Lambeth Road, at the back of the main St. Thomas’s hospital with its jarring mix of buildings from 19th century riverside pavilions to 1970s white-tiled modernism. It is not a promising location, but it has one great virtue that Hopkins immediately spotted. It is Parts directly opposite the tree-girt gardens of Lambeth Palace and the adjacent Archbishop’s Park. So he turned his building’s back on the rest of the hospital complex and raised a mighty curved glass atrium up high. This conservatory-like structure – with a café and a little school in it – is four storeys tall and takes in the long, peaceful view. The wards do too, because they look straight across the atrium. And it acts as a light-scoop, bringing daylight down to what would otherwise be the darker regions below.

When it came to contextualism, Hopkins chose the warmth of the older hospital buildings rather than the clinical white tile of the 1970s additions. So he sets his glass and steel against terracotta panels – which are every bit as much of a design cliché today as white tiles were in the 1970s, but have the merit of being considerably pleasanter. wholesale jerseys I doubt that the Victorian builders worried that redbrick was getting to be a bit formulaic. It’s how you use the material that counts, and it is well handled here.

One of my beefs about child-centred buildings is that they can be massively condescending, an adult’s take on what children ought to like. To try and get around this the hospital and the architects did a lot of consultation with patients (and their parents) on the existing children’s wards, plus involving a local school. A “children’s board”, no less, was constituted. All right, but I still don’t much like the slightly twee resulting inereriors, where every floor is named after a different area of the natural world, where colours and patterns have to be relentlessly jolly, where lifts have to pretend they are a bit like rockets, and where there has to be a curious cone-shaped shiny plastic helter-skelter in the foyer. Love the idea of the helter-skelter – but why the weird, slightly sinister form? I can’t help wondering whether this was what the children really had in mind. Luckily, the Hopkins team have thought of other, more vital considerations – such as making the ceilings cheap mlb jerseys in the wards reasonably pleasant to look at. When you’re in hospital, you spend a lot of time staring at the ceiling.

The strongest ideas here are purely architectural and practical. The sense of serenity and open-ness provided by the view. The absence of long, soul-sapping corridors. The tidying-away of the usual clutter of clinical risus equipment. The provision of pull-down guest beds so that a parent can be with the child overnight. Having several single-nurse stations distributed throughout rather than having a distant gaggle of them all together. The idea of the big atrium as an events venue and meeting place. All of these are fairly small things in themselves, but add up to a very thoughtful building.

So: one of the wholesale jerseys best new hospitals to arrive for quite some time costs the same per square foot as your average public-finance-initiative cheap jerseys nightmare and is designed by architects who have never previously done a hospital at all. You can’t help thinking there’s a lesson in this for all those who commission healthcare buildings.

Information about the Evelina Childrens’ Hospital: www.evelinaappeal.org
Hopkins Architects: www.hopkins.co.uk

Text © Hugh Pearman. First published in The Sunday Times, London, on November 27, 2005 as “Just what the doctor ordered”.”