'Inexperienced architects could be key to future of healthcare design'

Health trusts urged to bring in architects with no experience of healthcare design in bid to drive innovation

CircleBath represented Foster + Partners first commission in the healthcare sector and is now a flagship for medical design

Architects with no experience of designing healthcare buildings could provide the ideas for a new generation of modern medical facilities, a conference heard this week.

The Institute of Healthcare Engineering & Estate Management’s Healthcare Estates 2012 conference in Manchester was told that many NHS trusts will only work with architects who have previously designed for the market.

But experts warned that this approach could stifle innovation and urged estates commissioners to be more dynamic in their choice of partners.

Sarah Waller, programme director of the Enhancing the Healing Environment project at The King’s Fund, said: “Using architects and designers that do not have experience of the healthcare market can be fantastic as they will bring innovation and change.”

Gareth Hoskins of Gareth Hoskins Architects added: “Sometimes when you bid for a contract within the health market you have to have done work for a healthcare organisation before and they will not consider you if you have not. However, I feel it is the diversity of projects that can be very beneficial and I am very sceptical of architects who claim they are ‘healthcare experts’.

“We need architects that work on a wide range of products. It is about quality environments, not just for patients, but for people.”

An example of where this approach has worked is at the award-winning CircleBath hospital.

The development was the first healthcare building designed by Foster + Partners and has become a flagship for modern healthcare delivery since opening two years ago.

A company spokesman said: “CircleBath is our first hospital and represents a radical departure from orthodox approaches to hospital planning.”

Speaking at the conference, Rory Coonan, former director of architecture, design and planning at Circle Healthcare, added: “We appointed architects for Bath who had never designed hospitals. Despite working in the industry for 40 years, they had never been asked to do a hospital and we hoped that by bringing them in they would challenge the normal NHS design rules.”

And John Cooper, chairman of architects for health, said those already working in the industry would support increased competition.

He said: "Healthcare is not a particularly glamorous sector, but we very much welcome newcomers."

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