Grainge Architects became involved in the project following Devon Partnership NHS Trust's successful bid to NHS England to secure funding for a mother & baby unit (MBU) for the South West. The project was unique in that, of the four centres to be commissioned by the NHS nationally, this one was to be the only purpose built new building, the other three were to be refurbishments of existing buildings.
Our practice was selected on the basis of our previous mental health experience, working with the Devon Partnership NHS Trust we had successfully delivered projects at Wonford House, Langdon Hospital & Franklyn Community Hospital amongst others. Due to the delivery challenges facing the Trust once the funding bid was secured, the design process necessitated a rapid start.
We were formally appointed to commence the design of the MBU in July 2017. An intensive period of design ensued after which a detailed planning application was submitted on 29th September 2017 and planning approval was granted on the 15th January 2018. The team began a process by both reviewing existing units and also visiting a number of recent MBU's including Hackney, Birmingham & Bristol, bench marking good practice & compiling lessons learnt. This process combined with architectural and health care planning input as well as frequent stakeholder meetings resulted in a concept scheme being agreed upon in a relatively short timescale.
Our team worked in parallel on the initial two aspects of the project, appraising available sites for the building and establishing the fundamental design principles necessary to ensure the success of the MBU.
The Design Concept
Whilst the building is on three levels, the principle patient level is at ground level and is focused around a courtyard. The building wraps itself around the courtyard akin to a cloistered collegiate courtyard. This cloistered courtyard links the most important components of the MBU, such as day spaces, bedrooms, family room with the safe protected external space. The garden is the heart of the scheme. Views into and through the courtyard will ensure the MBU has an open, welcoming character, filling the building with great natural light and colour.
The building itself is small scale, with an abundance of sunlight entering through the clerestory roof-lights, natural ventilation is plentiful. A feeling of wellbeing is promoted. The circulation space transitions between open plan rooms and corridors, avoiding an institutional enclosed feel. Individual rooms often have high vaulted ceilings and an airiness which was uncommon in many of the units we visited.
The use of large amounts of glass ensures that the building blurs the boundaries between inside and out, folding doors further enhance this feeling. The courtyard garden is experienced whether the building is opened or closed, in summer or winter mode truly bringing the outside in. Individual bedrooms have their own exterior terrace, a veranda allowing mother and baby to sit and enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of the garden.
The aesthetic of the building is a carefully handled through the use of a balance of materials, including timber cladding, render, zinc roofing and glass. The intention is to create the feeling and atmosphere of a large domestic house or small hotel as opposed to a psychiatric unit. Whilst anti-ligature safeguarding has obviously been paramount to the design process and we have worked hard to ensure that this is achieved whilst maintaining a domestic and welcoming feel to the environment. Offices for the community outreach team are provided at lower ground floor level, access directly up into the main MBU is via a controlled staff access lift and stairs. At 1st floor level two flats have been designed specifically for visiting family members to stay overnight on the unit. A controlled access route from the main entrance to the flats ensures visitors do not inadvertently gain access to the secure areas of the unit. It is intended that as mothers reach the end of their stay on the MBU they will be able to walk with their babies through the gardens of Wonford Hospital site to enjoy the landscape of the hospital and the wider area.
The building is designed to Breeam excellent standard & incorporates a number of energy reducing features. Inherent, passive features have been favoured ranging from high performance building fabric and low energy fixtures up to allowance for future connection to the local district heating main. The building has just started on site and we are currently finalising the FF&E, interior design.