Set in the old heart of London, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) is a hospital of great importance to the city. Operating six facilities throughout the urban sprawl, it is one of the largest National Health Service trusts and a major teaching hospital within the United Kingdom (U.K.) In 2010, that role grew even larger as it became one of the two organizations within the country to house an NHS proton therapy center.
At the time, UCLH decided it would take the opportunity to relocate and expand some of its existing services—such as hematology and surgical—to address growing demand.
“Right from the start, we knew we wanted to create something special: a place where patients could receive the very best treatment in an environment that made it as straightforward as possible for our staff to deliver that care,” says Laura Churchward, director of strategy at UCLH.
Ultimately the hospital came to settle near research partner University College London, which also happened to fall near other UCLH sites. The only complication was that it was set in a protected view area, meaning the height of the building was limited to preserve the sightlines of the local landmark: St Paul’s Cathedral.
NHS Opens the Earth for its Proton Therapy Center
After considering nearly 40 design options, the project team decided that going down—93.5 feet, to be exact—might be the better solution.
The reasoning was it would address the necessary structural and radioactive shielding needs of the proton center (including 6.5-foot-thick concrete walls), but also maximize the development potential of the site, says Kevin Bates, director at Scott Tallon Walker Architects (London), which, in association with Edward Williams Architects (London), provided the architecture as well as served as the lead design and interiors firm.
“Utilizing the space in this way enabled us to deliver the best value for money and achieve the greatest possible clinical space in the area we had available,” Churchward says.
Of the total 13-stories housed within the new Grafton Way Building, five of them are situated underground. This includes a mezzanine which houses the proton center, mechanical services, and surgical floors with eight operating theaters.
Above that is a seven-story acute care hospital that includes an imaging center, 10-bed critical care unit, and inpatient wards for blood cancer, critical care, surgical, and private healthcare services.
Bright and Light Keep Subterranean Facilities Feeling Elevated
The needs of the patients were delicately considered in which function would be situated where. For instance, recognizing that patients with blood disorders might experience long stays, the project team ensured the atrium and patient rooms feel open and bright by providing access to natural light and views via floor-to-ceiling glass walls.
For the overall interior design, inspiration came from the concept of English gardens, which guided the color tone, materials, furnishings, and artwork selection. As another example, a video frieze along the top of two walls adjacent to the proton therapy area has a dynamic movement of clouds and various skies, from dusk to dawn, to work with circadian rhythm.
“The light and sense of space within the hospital was important to us, as well as the artwork,” Churchward says. “With much of the building below ground, having pleasant spaces is hugely important.”