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NHS Nightingale: BDP on the first nine days converting the ExCeL centre


BDP has described the ‘unprecedented’ challenge of helping convert the ExCeL Exhibition Centre in London’s Docklands into a vast temporary hospital for the coronavirus crisis

The UK’s second-biggest practice is working under main contractor CFES to convert the 115,000m² conference centre into a field hospital.

The first nine days on site have already seen the completion of 500 beds in the centre, which is set to eventually house 4,000 beds.

Plans for the temporary change of use of the centre were submitted to Newham Council last Thursday (26 March) with the application marked as being ‘of national importance’.

The practice said it was immensely proud to be working on the hospital and described the working on the project as ‘intense and exhausting’.

The centre has previously been used as an Olympic venue and to host a G20 summit. It is being reconfigured to accommodate two hospital wards with ‘minimum building intervention’.

BDP architect director Paul Johnson said: ‘The bed-heads and service corridors have been constructed from a component system that is usually used to construct exhibition stands.

‘It’s quick to construct and lightweight. There has been some simple reinforcement to allow services to be fitted to the walls.’

The architects have also drawn up an NHS Nightingale instruction manual (see below) showing the fit-out processes and strategies used on the temporary hospital in the hope it will be useful for other emergency facilities.

BDP was contacted about the work after it undertook a study earlier this month proposing the use of exhibitions centres for large scale temporary Intensive Care Unit (ICU) facilities.

Responding to a call for assistance on 22nd March, BDP said it was on site the next day to start work with a team of specialist healthcare architects, engineers and designers.

BDP principal James Hepburn said: ‘Delivering emergency hospital facilities in conference and exhibition centres is unprecedented, so we have been drawing on our previous experience of designing large-scale healthcare facilities including very large intensive-care units in super-speciality tertiary hospitals like QE Hospital, Birmingham.’

NHS Nightingale is the first of a number of crisis centres planned around the UK, designed to deal with a surge of patients suffering from coronavirus. BDP said it had been approached by other NHS trusts around the country to work on other field hospitals. 

BDP said the NHS Nightingale Hospital was a ‘monumental team effort’ between clinicians, consultants, contractors, the ExCeL FM team and the British Army.

Nhs nightingale instruction manual rev c

Nhs nightingale instruction manual rev c

You can download a pdf of this document here

Q&A with BDP principal James Hepburn and architect director Paul Johnson

What has the process been like so far?

The key to the ExCeL project is the clarity of the conceptual thinking and the rigorous approach to procurement and construction, which have enabled the project to be built safely at speed. The principles will benefit all subsequent projects.

To deliver this volume of equipped beds within such a short timeframe required all teams to make immediate decisions to allow construction to progress in parallel with design. Solutions had to be flexible, rapid to construct and take into account procurement channels.

Can you describe the components of what BDP has designed for Nightingale?

The bed-heads and service corridors have been constructed from a component system that is usually used to construct exhibition stands. It’s quick to construct and lightweight. There has been some simple reinforcement to allow services to be fitted to the walls.

The ExCeL Centre’s existing electrical infrastructure has been modified to increase the resilience, UPS [uninterruptible power supply] and temporary generators. The temporary electrics used for exhibitions has been used to feed a 3m section of bed-head dado trunking that has been prefabricated by electricians on site.

The medical gas installation is huge. Two distribution ring mains run around the basement car park at high level, rising up to feed each bed head through the services floor boxes and then distribute to the bed head via the service corridor between the bed-heads.

Is there is any structural work involved in the conversion?

Minimal building intervention is essential to ensure rapid project delivery, so it is vital that building assets are used to the maximum. Also, the experience of the healthcare architecture team and their understanding of clinical flows allowed logical repurposing spaces with minimal new construction.

How the unique requirements of a coronavirus hospital shaped what is needed?

We worked closely with clinicians to ensure that every bed can be fitted with all the equipment required to treat seriously ill Covid-19 patients and be cared for by dedicated staff in full PPE equipment. However, it is the scale, timeframe and purpose of this emergency facility that distinguishes it from any previous healthcare projects.

View the ExCeL centre in the AJ Buildings Library


Related files

Readers' comments (6)

  • great effort. Well done

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  • With reports of more than 16,000 staff needed to run the hospital at full capacity - not so astonishing for a facility the size of eight district general hospitals - there are clearly big implications for travelling to work, and for finding local accommodation's for the many staff who don't live anywhere near.

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  • I know people who've been approached about working here already and they are being offered accommodation on site, presumably in the neighbouring large hotels

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  • Oh for a spellcheck 'edit' facility on this website.

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  • To complement this, here's a bit from today's Guardian about the military's contribution to this project:


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  • Fantastic piece of work.
    Well done to all involved!

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