It is well known that our built environment contributes to our well-being, and that there is a correlation in urban areas between high levels of pollution, ill-health and economic poverty. After the Second World War, high quality new housing estates were designed by architects such as Powell and Moya at Churchill Gardens in Pimlico, to connect into the local surroundings, with transparency in their circulation areas and expansive areas of landscape, the trees in which have matured well now some 50 years later. Sadly, it went wrong after that; the focus was on numbers rather than quality, estates were not maintained and architects were squeezed out by contractors with building systems that were later found to have expensive heating and defects such as condensation, and we have had the Ronan Point disaster of 1968 and the Grenfall Tower tragedy of 2017.
In the aim to achieve a massive expansion in housing across the UK, what lessons does the past give us for the future?
The Wellcome Collection’s new exhibition examines many of the ways in which architecture, the built environment and health have been intertwined, both in new housing by 19th century philanthropists and 20th century local authorities such as the GLA and in healthcare facilities – clinics, hospitals, care centres designed to support well-being and, the star of the exhibition, Maggie Centres for cancer care provided across the country where, once again, architects including Norman Foster and Frank Gehry have created inspirational and sensitive healing environments which are focussed on the well-being of people and include a focus on the kitchen table, with views out to green spaces.
As part of the exhibition, artist Giles Round has developed a colour palette of 30 colours which have a positive impact on health and morale, researched from previous work by the British Colour Council in 1946 (which everyone has forgotten about) and buildings such as Alvar Aalto’s sanatorium in Paimio in Finland.
How can we transform the future of our urban environment and the design of residential and healthcare buildings? This is the sort of discussion which the RIBA should be leading.
Transport yourself into another world, into a disaster zone in a virtually inaccessible place, where all infrastructure has gone. How can you respond to the healthcare needs of the people affected by the disaster? Part of the exhibition provides an answer. Following an open competition by the Wellcome Collection in January this year, Rogers, Stirk, Harbour + Partners, working with engineers BuroHappold and Chapman BDSP have created a design for a flat-pack clinic for the international charity Doctors of the World which was established in 1980 in response to the humanitarian crisis in Vietnam. Today it operates across the world where it is needed, often in regions where buildings and infrastructure have been devastated.
They need lightweight, easy to transport and construct, clinics in order to be able to effectively deliver healthcare in emergency situations. The exhibition shows the development from early drawings through models and prototypes to the final solution which will be used by Doctors of the World.
Linked to the project, young 14 to 18-year old designers have created imaginative designs for furniture, equipment, toys and other items that can be used in the Clinic or in the community in which it will be located, working with Adam Blencowe and Thor ter Kulve of Studio in Place.
Can we bring this same imagination to the housing and healthcare environments of the future in the UK?