Sep 17, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

A healing upgrade for Liverpool's healthcare provision

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Work is underway on a new state-of-the-art 90,000m² hospital in the centre of Liverpool. The new £335m scheme will regenerate a key area of the city that was previously unoccupied and will create jobs both during construction and after completion.


The scheme, designed by architects NBBJ/HKS, will contribute to the urban landscape of Liverpool, as this previously derelict piece of land will now link two large areas of existing public realm integrating the site with Everton Park and the existing Liverpool University. The newly-created public space around the hospital goes beyond the traditional objective of providing therapeutic views for patients. It will become a significant and accessible new piece of public realm for the people of Liverpool, improving connectivity and reinstating circulation routes around the city. The landscaped gardens widen the regeneration area of the build, creating a new and attractive area within for the city. The design of the site has been influenced by traditional Italian masterplanning of linking public squares, boulevards and intimate courtyards in-between multiple buildings.

Historic architecture

The facade of the building consists of ceramic rainscreen cladding and light-coloured masonry, reflecting the historic architecture fabric of the city. Resembling Portland Stone, the building’s material palette is reminiscent of significant Merseyside public buildings such as the Royal Liver Building, Metropolitan Cathedral and the Harold Cohen Library.

The Royal Liverpool University Hospital will house 650 beds, including 40 critical care beds and 81 emergency assessment beds, and 19 operating theatres. It will also become a nationalist specialist hospital in the areas of ophthalmology, haematology and vascular surgery; and house specialist cardiology and respiratory care facilities.

The redevelopment is part of a larger city regeneration scheme in Liverpool and will provide much needed high-quality medical facilities for the city’s growing population.

The hospital is set to be completed at the end of 2017 and will be Liverpool’s main accident and emergency hospital.

David Lewis, Principal at NBBJ comments: “Since the founding of the NHS, hospital design often seems categorically opposed to good urban planning. Acute care hospitals in particular, to accommodate state-of-the-art procedures and high numbers of patients, must often occupy extremely large facilities on large sites, paying little regard to the surrounding city.

Urban planning

“These large, impermeable superblocks are now widely considered detrimental to the life of the city. Contemporary urban planning instead favours small blocks, walkable pedestrian districts and a fine grain of uses, which would seem to be incompatible with large acute care hospitals. However, hospitals and cities are not at such odds as it seems. Planned correctly, a hospital can heal the fabric of the city outside, just as it heals patients inside.

“Liverpool is a vibrant city undergoing a renaissance, although like many British cities, it also has areas that need repairing. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the current site of the Royal University Liverpool Hospital, and in its changes over time.

“In the 1800s, Liverpool was a booming port city, bolstered by trade linkages to the Americas and West Indies. From the waterfront, where the custom houses known as the Three Graces stood watching over the docks, the city expanded inland to the east. Financial aspirations were expressed in banks and corporate headquarters, civic pride in public buildings and town halls, and domestic comfort in and around gentrified squares. Around the turn of the century, architect Alfred Waterhouse designed the old Liverpool Royal Infirmary and University College Liverpool, widely considered the first of the “red brick” universities, bringing life to several city institutions that persist today.

“At the city’s peak population of more than 800,000 in the 1930s, the site of what would become the Royal Liverpool Hospital – bounded by present-day Prescot Street, West Derby Street, Daulby Street and Low Hill – was a proper part of this thriving metropolis. The site was knitted into the greater urban fabric with small streets, pedestrian access and public spaces integrated into it. But then Liverpool, like many British cities the victim of de-industrialisation and suburban sprawl, began losing residents. In the 1970s, the city flatted the site and stripped out the existing fabric to make way for the current Royal Liverpool University Hospital. The hospital, set within the interior of a large superblock, didn’t integrate with the city at large. With no formal enclosure at the site perimeter and no public spaces, the site ‘leaks’ into the surroundings. The hospital itself forms an imposing, impenetrable, unpopular mass at this important site marking the gateway to the city.

Restoring public access

“Now, with the hospital needing massive upgrades, the opportunity exists to heal this site and to restore the fine-grained city grid that used to exist on the site, even while providing for the state-of-the-art care that Liverpool needs. Our master plan seeks to more clearly define the urban space of the street, to restore public access to the centre of the site, and to knit the hospital more fully into fabric of Liverpool.

“Our first step is to create a public space at the centre of the site and position the new hospital building to the southeast of the site, at the corner of West Derby Street and Low Hill, to form a landmark urban gateway to motorists approaching Liverpool from the east. Here on this corner, the building is at its tallest, marking the entrance not only to the hospital, but also to the city itself.

“Locating the new hospital on the southeast corner additionally allows the existing facility to continue operations as construction commences. Once the new facility opens, the old hospital will be demolished to make way for the significant public space at the centre of the site. Pedestrian connections into this public space will permeate into the site from all directions, restoring the street grid that was lost in the 1970s.

Reconnecting the city

“This central plaza will be bounded on all sides: to the east, the new hospital, and the Linda McCartney Centre to the north and west, along Prescot and Daulby Streets, a new biosciences development will leverage the hospital to drive medical advancements and the local economy; and to the south and west, the existing Dental Hospital and a future cancer centre will hold the edge of West Derby Street. As a result, the central plaza will be sheltered and the surrounding streets will be activated by new uses. The multi-storey car park and Clinical Science and Support Building (CSSB) form a buffer zone to the busy Low Hill.

“We used the four-storey drop across the site to divide the public space into different levels, each with a different character, defining the different entrances. First, the Education Square, on the upper level to the east, entrances here are to the Education Centre and CSSB. This level, separate from general public access is for staff parking, services deliveries and the Emergency entrance. Second, the main Hospital Square provides both a public gathering space – complete with cafe – and a main entrance to the hospital on Level 1, complete with vehicular boulevard and pedestrian paths from Prescot Street to the north. Next are the Terraces, which step down finally to the Lower Square, where additional pedestrian routes connect to the University of Liverpool to the south.

“The public spaces also connect back to the context of Liverpool through our choice of materials, which were based on the Public Realm Implementation Framework used throughout the city. Stone pavers connect to public spaces throughout the city centre, and similar use of landscape, lighting and furniture will create high-quality public space in an area that currently lacks it. Likewise, the hospital building itself also features a material palette that connects back to the city, particularly in its use of Portland stone similar to other public buildings throughout Liverpool.

“In designing these squares, we relied on the very classical notion of a sequence from public to private space, such as one finds in traditional medieval towns, for example. That is, the visitor begins in a fully public space – for example, the Piazza delle Erbe in Verona, Italy, or the Hospital Square of the new Royal – at the heart of the city, where they can find information, respite, refreshment or a place to gather. These public squares are often accompanied by a tall architectural feature – the campanile of the Torre dei Lamberti in Verona, or the stepped profile of the new Royal in Liverpool – that signifies on the skyline the location of the public space.

“Surrounding the central square are semi-public spaces for those who need access, such as the interior courtyard of a residential block. The new Royal has two such semi-public courtyards, as well as a large public atrium, which are accessible to all who visit the hospital. To make this semi-public space more welcoming, we are looking at options for eliminating the reception desk with long queues, instead relying on mobile staff with handheld devices – much like an Apple store or the London Olympics – to check in guests and provide information. Cafes and shops provide additional amenities. And as in similarly-scaled urban spaces, the hospital’s atrium and courtyards make it easy to orient oneself and find the public circulation core at the centre of the facility.

“Finally, from the semi-public areas the visitor ascends to the private space of their own apartment or, in the case of the hospital, to the patient’s room or the clinician’s workplace. We designed all these places – including the nurses’ stations at the centre of the floor plate – to have natural light and views to the gardens, which resulted in a shifted floor plan that brings daylight in at the corners of the internal corridors. This is visible on the exterior of the building as well, in the canted glass walls that help to break up the monolithic mass of the facade and bring more scale and energy to the streetscape.

“When completed, the new Royal will heal a once-impermeable site in the centre of the city. By reinforcing the edges of the block, it will energise the street and shelter a vast, publicly accessible plaza at its centre. By connecting to surrounding areas, it will bring people into and through the site, and help drive advancements at the nearby university and future biosciences developments. And by bringing state-of-the-art care to Liverpool, it will ensure the health of generations of Liverpudlians to come.”

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