FROM THE ARCHIVE
Winter 1966: In need of treatment
A recent Twitter thread by Tim O’Callaghan, director of nimtim architects, has highlighted the plight of Wexham Park Hospital in Slough
A recent Twitter thread by Tim O’Callaghan, director of nimtim architects, has highlighted the plight of Wexham Park Hospital in Slough – described by architectural historian Elaine Harwood as the “most admired and imitated post-war hospital in Britain”.
O’Callaghan, whose father has been receiving care at the hospital, lamented the “mess” that had been made of Powell & Moya’s pioneering 1966 building. The main tower, “beautifully sculptural … with articulated levels and setbacks”, is unused and covered in phone antennae, while the celebrated entrance foyer, with its faceted concrete structure (once likened to a pineapple skin), is also hidden from view.
It is a far cry from the futuristic vision that greeted CQ in the winter of 1966. Then, the entrance hall was “a fascinating study in the plasticity of concrete construction”, with the tower above “all lightness, springing in to the air like a fountain from four tapering columns”. The whole campus was underpinned by the architects’ belief in the importance of daylight and nature, the wards arranged in low-rise blocks with large windows overlooking courtyard gardens. “It makes you feel,” wrote CQ, “if not exactly welcome, at least at home directly you pass through the gates. No white tiles and whiff of formaldehyde here …”
Added to this was an inherent flexibility in the design approach. Powell & Moya saw the hospital as “a village or small town which can grow and where each sector, while being unmistakably part of the same organism, has its own individual character. The result is a criss-cross of covered, enclosed walkways.” As he looked around the hospital half a century on, O’Callaghan reflected that “it must have been an amazing place to recuperate, with views of what was at the time a semi-rural landscape”. Or as CQ put it, “Somehow, one could be doing with more hospitals of this kind …”
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