13 December 2017

Using timber to build healthier hospitals

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The Dyson Centre for Neonatal Care at the Royal United Hospital in Bath has set a new benchmark in outstanding, environmentally sustainable healthcare design, improving the care of hundreds of premature babies.


The first UK clinical healthcare unit to be built using exposed internal timber surfaces, this six-million-pound state-of-the-art hospital wing is shaped like a hug, enveloping vulnerable babies and giving them a secure base in which to thrive.


Strategically placed windows flood the building with natural light and warm timber panelling creates a sense of well-being for patients and families. Medical equipment is hidden to reduce clutter and there are no exposed piping or ducting.  Background noise is kept low to reduce anxiety in babies, helping them to sleep for longer periods of time. The horse-shoe layout of the centre provides parents with hope, as their new-borns are moved from high-dependency units to neonatal rooms.


Their first venture into the healthcare sector, architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios took a deliberate step back from the look, feel and smell of a traditional hospital. They have created an environmentally sustainable building, combining state-of-the-art medical facilities with a warm, peaceful setting that promotes holistic healing. The Dyson Centre serves as a template, showing how good, sustainable healthcare design can be achieved.


The neonatal unit comprises a single-storey extension and refurbishment of existing buildings. The main structure of the building is constructed from large cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels, providing an efficient, clean and quiet form of construction - essential in a hospital environment. Wards have been built with a clockwise circuit of cot rooms, starting with intensive care, leading to special care and finally ending up in a room designed to look more like a home, creating a psychological effect of development and health improvement. 


Sir James Dyson – of vacuum cleaner fame – helped fund and design the centre, which was completed in 2011. The philanthropist knows only too well the anxiety of spending time on a neonatal ward – his son Jacob was born six weeks premature.


He says: “Jacob’s lungs didn’t open, so he went blue. He was put into the first incubator they had, which was to deal with jaundice, and he was there for a couple of weeks. He looked like a skinned pigeon in his incubator – one felt the fragility of life.”


Dyson, who lives and works near to the Royal United Hospital, has now pledged £4 million towards building a new cancer centre, in the hope of producing similar benefits for patients.


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