Waldron Health Centre, New Cross, London by Henley Halebrown Rorrison
Waldron Health Centre is evidence of a public-private initiative that New Labour got right, says Rory Olcayto. Photography by Nick Kane
It would be easy to write off the past 10 years as a sorry tale of icon-led regeneration and crass, speculative housing developments, which have left our towns and cities as divided as the people who inhabit them. It can feel that way at times, but it’s not really true. Henley Halebrown Rorrison’s (HHR) impressive Waldron Health Centre, parked alongside south London’s New Cross station, a new hub on the East London Line that connects Croydon with Dalston, is evidence of a legacy far more substantial.
Four-storeys high, more than 100 metres long and entirely clad with cherry veneer panels, Waldron has undeniable civic presence. ‘It’s bigger than most town halls and libraries,’ says practice partner Simon Henley, and right from the start of the scheme, as discussed in the AJ nearly three years ago when it was partially complete, it was designed to change people’s perceptions of healthcare.
Henley Halebrown Rorrison’s focus has always been on creating a social architecture. When it was founded and doing interiors for ad agencies, Henley only half-jokes when he says, ‘it was social architecture for Porsche drivers’.
As well as providing a fittingly monumental anchor building for the East London rail line – New Cross station itself has little to draw the eye – Waldron, now completed, adds to and consolidates the nearby townscape. A new wing with clinics, admin and waiting spaces has been added and overlooks parallel Stanley Street, and like its twin, pivots around a central full-height, wood-panelled atrium.
A new square, a mirror-flip of the allotments on the other side of the plot, now faces Amersham Vale and the railway. It is framed with a colonnade – which gives access to a café and retail units – and giant precast concrete letters that spell out ‘Waldron Health’ with the last word, ‘Centre’, picked out in cherry wood, matching the elevation it sits alongside. A three-storey apartment block planned for the square is now unlikely to be built. Waldron’s ability to unify its neighbourhood is in marked contrast to the sedative alternative offered by out-of-town malls or iconic destinations, which today pass for much of our public realm.
It is modernism with a social programme, and infinitely more valuable to the profession than yet another beautifully-designed museum. And, significantly, a public-private initiative that New Labour got right. ‘In a way, it’s a kind of formalisation of the welfare state,’ says Henley, ‘and a permanent reminder of it.’