An architectural appraisal by Ian McInnes
The new health centre has now been functioning for over a year and provides a comprehensive range of integrated health services for the Dulwich community. Located on the south east corner of the former Dulwich Community Hospital site or, for those of a more historical bent, the former Champion Hill Infirmary of St Saviour's Union, it has been many years in gestation. It shares the site with the new Charter School East Dulwich which has retained the former ‘Chateau’ block, the centre piece of the original Victorian hospital design.
The rectangular plan has part two floors and part three floors and is laid out around a central landscaped courtyard. The welcoming naturally- lit main entrance atrium is highlighted externally with metal sheet cladding and strong vertical fins to emphasise its location. The elevational design is of its time. Crisply detailed brickwork with a flat ‘green’ roof and a thin metal coping is the go-to solution for many buildings today, but the choice of a sympathetic red brick relates well to the historic ‘chateau’ block and also gives the new building an impression of solidity - the setting- back of the ground floor and the use of different cladding material there also helps. The blank screen wall to the right of the main entrance, with its alternate projecting brickwork, is particularly successful in enlivening what is a large expanse of brickwork, and the recessed detailing around the windows on the front elevation adds some subtlety to the coverall composition. Environmentally, the design meets the ‘excellent’ BREEAM 2014 standard.
From a user’s point of view, the new building appears to fulfil the design brief which required a flexible building with a modern fit-for-purpose clinical environment, a welcoming and therapeutic atmosphere for patients and easy navigation and intuitive way finding for all users. It was also designed to allow for the possibility of future extension. Designed by architects Murphy Philips and built by contractor Willmott Dixon under a Department of Health LIFT contract, this very welcome addition to local health services cost £17m.
Ian McInnes is chairman of the Twentieth Century Society and a retired architect.