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Stirling Prize Video: Kentish Town Health Centre

Paul Monaghan of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris discusses the practice’s Kentish Town Health Centre

Interview: Paul Monaghan, partner, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

This health centre, situated on a residential road in North-West London, replaces another, dating from 1974. The new three-storey structure unites a number of medical services including a medical surgery, a dental surgery and X-ray facilities. The interior features wall murals and a well-lit, triple-height central street and waiting area.

What inspired the building’s design?
The inspiration was Berthold Lubetkin’s Finsbury Health Centre [in nearby Clerkenwell]. We wanted to create a modest civic building that was uplifting and engaging, and placed health services in a non-institutional environment. The public street, the art, the furniture and the sculptural nature of the internal spaces all contribute to this aim. We used the parlour game Jenga [in which players stack and subsequently remove wooden blocks] as a metaphor, a tool to assimilate and understand the complex brief. The cantilevers, which exist to provide additional area to the upper floors whilst avoiding tree roots at the ground level, also serve to break down the mass of the building whilst continuing the Jenga theme.

What was the relationship between architect and client like?
We had many clients for this project because it is a Local Improvement Finance Trust (LIFT) project; they were Camden PCT, Camden and Islington Community Solutions (CICS), the contractors Morgan Ashurst and the heads of the various services that inhabit the building. Over the seven years it took to procure the building there were many changing faces; however one person, Dr Roy Macgregor, has been with the project from beginning to end - 12 years in total. It was Roy’s idea to hold a RIBA competition and he has been the design champion ever since. He has been an inspiration and the project wouldn’t have been such a success without his passion, commitment and quiet persuasion.

How does the project use graphic design to enrich its architecture?
We have collaborated with graphic designer Morag Myerscough for so many years that it is hard to define where the architecture stops and the graphic art/design begins. We both share a belief that buildings and spaces are about communication and experience, and the projects we create together work hard to be understandable, exciting and joyful.

Tell us about your experience of the jury visit. Were there any nerves?
[When the building was being assessed for the shortlist] it was in the middle of the swine flu epidemic so the surgery was extremely busy and everyone was understandably focused on ensuring everything was operating smoothly. [For the Stirling jury] visit, things had calmed down. It was a lovely summer day and the building was filled with sunlight, so the jury couldn’t have seen it on a better day.

What would it mean to you and your practice to win the Stirling Prize?
It would show the architectural world that you can achieve design at the highest level even through a very challenging procurement process. Building Schools for the Future and LIFT are now the predominant method of procuring public buildings and we need more exemplars. AHMM is also 20 years old, so it would be a great birthday present.

Of the other shortlisted projects, which would you pick as the winner?
The Bodegas Protos winery by Graham Stirk of RSHP. I’ve admired the rigour and originality of Graham’s work for a long time.

Project Data

Start on site March 2007
Completion date September 2008
Gross external floor area 3,623m²
Form of contract
Bespoke Design & Build
Total cost £10.1 million
Cost per m² £2,788
Client Developer - Camden & Islington Community Solutions (CICS);
Tenant - Camden Primary Care Trust, NHS; Sub-tenant - James Wigg Practice
Architect Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
Structural engineer Elliott Wood Partnerships
Services engineer Peter Deer Associates
Main contractor Morgan Ashurst plc
Landscape architect Jinny Blom landscape
Graphic design Studio Myerscough
Annual CO² emissions 27.7kg/m²

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