West Norwood Health and Leisure Centre

Lambeth, London. 2013

  • Project Details
  • Completion: 2013
  • Cost: £14.7 Million
  • Clients: Building Better Health

By embracing a steeply sloping site, West Norwood Health and Leisure Centre explores the idea of a building as layered strata of uses. A series of brick volumes – connected by an internal street – are embedded into the ground; a massing move that minimises the building’s impact on the domestic scale of its neighbours whilst providing the material to re-landscape the surrounding park. The building’s section generates a beneficial demarcation of public and private spaces and allows each of the varied uses to reveal themselves upon entry through the single front door. The 5,400 square metre scheme will provide a state-of-the-art NHS customer service centre, as well as an unorthodox mix of community and health facilities to deliver well-being services and improved open space to the Norwood residential population. These include a 25 metre swimming pool, a large health and fitness suite and gym, a dance studio, community meeting rooms, and both GP and dental surgeries.

The Norwood Hall Joint Service Centre was commissioned by London Borough of Lambeth with NHS Lambeth PCT and is being delivered by Building Better Health using the LIFT procurement process.  It is a multi-agency building housing a customer service centre; a Neighbourhood Resource Centre accommodating health service including GP, dental, community health services and out of hospital services; a 25m six lane community pool; an 80-100 station gymnasium, multi-use dance studio, community meeting venue, as well as offices for the Lambeth Primary Care Trust, facilities management and staff amenities.  The building steps up on the site from one to four storeys high and has a gross internal area of 5,400m².

The generative idea was to replace the existing Norwood Hall - a disused community hall - with another building suited to accommodate the many functions required of this joint service centre, but to position it on the ‘worst’ part of the site, that is the sloping, under-utilised area towards Canterbury Grove.  This unlocks the ‘better’ part of the site for new landscaping, not only consolidating the open space and improving the amenity of the area, but also creating a new landscaped setting for the building.  This new amenity is enjoyed by visitors to the building on their approach to it, by the users of the building looking back over the landscaped areas, and by local residents.

The principle of the massing of the building has been developed as a reaction to the topography of the site and the surrounding buildings.  The steeply sloping site has been embraced and has informed the layout of the scheme.   Utilising this sloped part of the site necessitated cutting the building into the ground.  The cut earth excavated from the below-ground portion of the building is used to re-grade the remainder of the site, levelling out the ground around the existing Norwood Hall. 

The cutting of the building into the landscape served also to minimise the impact of the building on the existing context; much of the building is effectively underground.  There is an eight metre difference in level across the width of the site and by building up from the lowest part of the site, adjacent to the railway boundary.  This means that two storeys can be accommodated between the top and bottom levels of the site.

Adjacent bungalow housing on one side of the site are the closest existing buildings to the proposed development; consequently deserving the most sympathetic relationship.  Therefore the building along this edge has been restricted to a single storey height, the parapet level closely corresponds to the ridgeline of the bungalows.  From this point the building rises up in half-storey steps to the railway boundary, where the tallest four storey element of the building is akin to the height of the four storey mansions on the opposite side of the railway.

The massing of the building informs how the various facilities are set out within the centre.  The swimming pool was best suited as ground-bearing, but does not necessarily require a view out, while the healthcare accommodation was likely to be cellular in nature but requiring good natural light and views out.  The unusual way the section of the building relates to the landscape generated a beneficial demarcation of public and private spaces, whereby the lower ground floor of the complex is ostensibly staff-only access and houses the plant and facilities management areas; public access to the building is limited to the ground floor and above.

The relationship of building and landscape has been pivotal to the design of this scheme.  The formal aspects of this amalgamation have resulted in the massing described, but it has also served to inform the compositional, material and detail treatment of the architecture.  The idea of a form emerging from the landscape has been reinforced by conceiving the building as a series of strata, resembling a sedimental rock formation.  The quality of the brickwork externally and internally plays a vital role in the reinforcement this concept.  A detail for the brickwork has been developed that uses only one brick type and one mortar colour, but subtly delineates the ‘strata’ of the building by varying the plane of the bricks by 20mm and utilising flush and struck pointing.

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