Jude Barber finds a refined building that reinforces the civic importance of public healthcare
Scotland has a poor record of health inequality in relation to many of its European neighbours. In 2013, the then chief medical officer for Scotland, Harry Burns, demanded emergency action stating that: ‘Reversing [this trend] in our communities won’t happen overnight, but that has to be our ambition.’
The Shields, a new health and welfare centre commissioned by NHS Greater Glasgow, goes some way towards addressing this ambition. Designed by Anderson Bell Christie Architects, the building sits proudly on the corner of its inner-city, ethnically diverse neighbourhood. Across the street, existing three-storey tenements flank a small community centre and the construction site of a new primary school by Glasgow City Council.
The site for the new health centre has been well chosen. It occupies a former derelict area that had lain undeveloped for some time. Consequently, the new building forms a welcome addition to the neighbourhood and possesses a strong civic quality that significantly raises the bar for any future development.
The building consists primarily of two GP practices which had previously operated from nearby buildings that were no longer fit for purpose. The GP services are intrinsically linked with broader welfare services such as a health shop, a diet and exercise programme and pre-natal and social work, which operate directly from the building. Alan Gilmore from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has said that both the design and process of the new building have set a model for the development of similar buildings in the future.
The project was delivered via the Scottish government’s HubCo process, a new ‘delivery vehicle’ akin to a Private Public Partnership. The machinations of this are worth reviewing, but that is for another article. In practice, both client and architect described the process, lead by contractor CBC, as similar to a traditional Design and Build Contract.
The centre, arranged over two storeys, is set behind a double-height colonnade, spanning ground to eaves level. The simple monolithic form and restrained palette of materials present a robust facade that is well detailed and carefully handled.
With the new building, the client wished to reinforce the physical connection between the population’s health and place. In light of this, a small community garden was included within the project brief. Project architect Jonathan McQuillan had previously included allotments within a housing project for Glasgow’s Govan Housing Association, and this sensibility is evident in the Shields garden, which carefully balances an overall design framework with space for future development by local groups. The garden, run and managed by Urban Roots, a Glasgow-based, community-led organisation, has been designed to allow out-of-hours access and could be used as a teaching resource for local groups and schools. The garden has yet to fully bed in, and it seems unfortunate, and contradictory, that the adjacent car park dominates the rear of the site and is so extensive in relation to the garden.
It goes a long way towards realising Scotland’s wider ambition to combat health inequality
A deliberate attempt was made to extend the site boundary and external entrance to meet the main road, and better engage with the corner of the existing community centre. While it is an admirable ambition to connect new and old, the articulation appears overly tentative and it is hoped that future work in the public realm between both buildings might enhance this corner of the project over time.
To the rear, a single-storey extension was added during construction in an area that had been designated for future expansion. While this part of the building is technically well handled, it does sit rather oddly when viewed next to the robust two-storey block. I can only speculate that this may be partly a result of a procurement process that demands strict staged control boundaries with little flexibility to reconsider and adapt an overall design in relation to changes to the brief. Nevertheless, because expansion had been considered from the outset, internally this space connects well with the rest of the building.
The building’s material palette is considered and refined. A simple masonry brick has been coupled with dark curtain walling, both of which have been handled in a carefully controlled manner. Cor-ten steel screens, by artist Alex Hamilton, animate the lower levels between colonnades.
On entering the building, visitors are greeted by a compact yet lively reception and foyer area. There is a lightness and modesty within the entrance area that seems entirely appropriate to the sense of welcome required to encourage local residents to address their health concerns. Discrete views to the community garden are created below an open and well-positioned stair to upper levels. Long, slender views provide glimpses to GP rooms through elegant oak doors and screens.
Security measures are barely evident and the careful organisation of the building plan allows for passive supervision throughout this composed, hard-working space. Visitors can readily see the upstairs community meeting room as they enter the building. Upper waiting areas and reception desks at ground level have been designed to be open and approachable.
The first-storey waiting area overlooks vistas across the rooftops of Pollokshields towards places of worship, tenements and industrial sheds. Interestingly, there are also glimpses into the nearby, and much sought after, Queen Victoria allotments.
Internally, the colonnade and Cor-ten screens successfully protect lower GP rooms from the main road. Manifestation to curtain walling glazing, also designed by Hamilton, provides a gentle, diffused light in the reception and waiting areas. It is evident the client and architect worked closely together to achieve a careful balance of openness and privacy, which can be a challenging task for this type of building.
As we left the site the client referred to ‘equalities of access’ as a key ethos of the project. This principle, coupled with the piloting of the community garden, bodes well for future health buildings in Scotland. Harry Burns, the country’s former chief medical officer, said: ‘We must not concentrate on deficits but on assets, skills and capacities. We must build social capital so individuals can offer each other friendship and mutual support.’ Anderson Bell Christie Architects, has worked closely with its client to design a refined building that reinforces the civic importance of public healthcare, and has balanced this with an open and welcoming design. The building therefore goes a long way towards realising Scotland’s wider ambition to combat health inequality and herald an era of integrated health and wellbeing.
Jude Barber is a director at Collective Architecture
The Shields Centre is a new facility for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde procured through Hub West Scotland, designed by Anderson Bell Christie and built by CBC Construction. It sits on the boundary of a conservation area, adjacent to an existing community centre and primary school. The building seeks to unite these disparate local facilities and consolidate existing GP, social work and health improvement services into a single entity. The centre is bright, airy and welcoming to encourage healthy lifestyles and wellbeing. A community garden provides a narrative of teaching and community interaction, interpreted through artwork that runs throughout the building.
Jonathan McQuillan, associate, Anderson Bell Christie Architects
The intention was to create a formal response to the East Pollokshields Conservation Area, to use a simple palette of materials elegantly, to integrate into the local community, to provide bright and airy spaces, to provide a facility that does not feel institutional, and to promote integrated service provision.
The process involved intensive stakeholder consultation with approximately a dozen building user groups, as well as the local community council and community groups. An artist was engaged to develop art that reflects and enhances the themes evolving from the brief development process.
There was a willingness among the whole team to produce an aspirational building. Hub West Scotland and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde have been working to enhance synergies and collaborative working in the public sector. The Shields Centre was the first project to be born of this process. This led to a willingness to investigate our suggestions, such as procuring more land to better tie the facility into the crossroads where the community centre and school are located, alongside facilitating the creation of a walled community garden and teaching allotment in the space between the Shields Centre and the community centre.
The Shields Centre brings together two GP surgeries and social services that were operating out of extremely dilapidated buildings in the area. It also integrates facilities for district nursing and Pollokshields Health Shop into a central location.
We are delighted that it has been shortlisted for both the RIAS Awards and Scottish Design Awards.
Jonathan McQuillan, associate, Anderson Bell Christie Architects