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.

Site History

The area of West Norwood, originally Lower Norwood, was created as part of the enclosures act which divided up the Great North Wood, hence ‘Norwood’. The area was predominantly woodland and open fields until the early part of the 19th century when construction of Waterloo and Blackfriars bridges opened up new transport links to south London, heralding a spread of suburban development that was desirable to the crowded and polluted conditions of central London. 

The railway link to Sydenham and Crystal Palace created in 1856 (which bounds the eastern edge of the site) significantly changed the character of the area, giving rise to extensive speculative residential buildings in the latter part of the 19th century, such as those on Bloom Grove. 


The existing Norwood Hall, originally a synagogue, was built shortly after the demolition of a Jewish Orphanage, but was deconsecrated when the Local Authority bought the land and used subsequently as a community venue. This fell into neglect and has been disused since 1997.

Site Analysis

Limited access to the site means that the site is hidden away from the main thoroughfare of Knight’s Hill. The sloped nature of the site means that it does not make for good playing fields. As a result the site is underused and undervalued as an amenity. At best it is used for the exercising of dogs rather than sport, but its seclusion and lack of passing pedestrian traffic makes it the target of anti-social behaviour.

The site is surrounded by a collection of disparate buildings that do not have a prevailing architectural style or character to which the proposed building can take any cues.




Site Strategy

The generative idea was to replace the existing Norwood 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.


Strategy for massing

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 may have been regarded as problematic, but it has been embraced and turned to an opportunity that 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. It is anticipated that all the cut earth will be used on the site, requiring that none of the earth has to be carted elsewhere.

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.

Strategy for building layout

Once the basic massing of the building had been established it was used to inform how the various facilities were set out within the centre. The centre comprises a wide range of different facilities under the control of separate stakeholders; however, it was important to the spirit of the building that these individual suites were regarded as parts of the greater whole. So, for example, there is one front door to the scheme and one shared main reception, rather than separate entrances to the various stakeholder areas.

A basic arrangement was established due to the pragmatics of accommodating a swimming pool on the site—this 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. Other of the suites were placed for maximum accessibility and a desire that they would enliven the landscaped area in front of the building and make this a more vibrant space. Therefore the cafe and community meeting venue were situated adjacent to the building entrance; the main reception desk was sited prominently inside the front doors and links in to the Customer Service Centre desks and waiting area.

The unusual way the section of the building relates to the landscape generated a beneficial demarkation 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. Much of this floor is effectively underground, but of course these spaces are not reliant on natural light or views out. Public access to the building is limited to the ground floor and above.




Cutaway ground floor level

Internal arrangement

This cutaway section on the left through the shared central space shows the stepped form of the pool hall roof, falling to meet the wooded landscape area at the north of the site. The building is cut into the slope of the site so that the gym accommodation at the top of the image is a single-storey high element that sits comfortably with the height of the bungalows opposite.

The section on the right shows the GP and dentist waiting areas, and the dance studio, spanning over the central space. The stepped roof of the ‘street’ space rises up to the height of the wing of healthcare accommodation—the tallest element of the scheme situated on the lowest part of the site, looking over the railway lines toward Bloom Grove.



This short section, on the left, through the pool hall shows the multi-levelled nature of the building and how it keys in with the change in landscape level across the site. The pool hall and shared ‘street’ space are situated on ground floor, in the middle of the slope, but the gym accommodation that surrounds the pool at high level corresponds with the new path to Canterbury Grove.

On the right, the site falls away towards the railway allowing another floor of accommodation beneath the ground floor level. This houses office space, staff facilities, plant and facilities management areas, all of which can be accessed and serviced from the lower part of the site, separating these back-of-house areas from the public spaces above.

Design concepts

Exploring 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 above, 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.



Generative concept 1: building cut into landscape

Secure by Design

The security of the proposal has been a key concern to the stakeholders, planning department and local residents alike. The building and landscape have therefore been developed with security in mind and it is to be hoped that the development of this site—the improvement to access, the new external lighting, increased passive surveillance from increased use as well as CCTV it will bring—will result in significant improvements in security and a deterrant of the existing anti-social activities that take place there.

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