- Entrance and Waiting Room -
Currently threatened with closure, this is the only clinic catering for homeless patients in Brighton. Housed in a post-war building it shares the premises with a dental practice. The practice offers health care, a needle exchange and drop-in dentist. The clinic aims to supply help in all aspects of life including registering dogs with a local animal charity or using the practice as a registered mailing address. A private company funds the clinic with a minimal amount funding from the NHS and the premises are very small in relation to the amount of people they treat. Situated at the rear of another clinic, the entrance is more or less hidden from the main street and surrounded by railings. Internally the relatively large waiting room is separated from the staff areas and consulting room by a secure door and glass partition.
Entering from the street straight into the open waiting area there is an instant impression of aggression and control with no areas of privacy on offer. The relationship between the staff and patient areas is defined by safety concerns, with no free access for patients beyond the waiting room an enforced division is in place between the two. The only point of communication between patients and staff in the waiting area is through a glazed opening, which impedes communication and results in frustration on both sides. The staff area behind the reception is extremely cramped and busy, with storage and time pressures impacting heavily on the space. Areas for working, eating, meeting and relaxing are either non-existent or ill defined A lack of funding is a key driver in this clinic’s design, the overall space is extremely limited especially for staff and despite occupancy of 10 years the space feels temporary and reactive.
By opening up the street entrance and staff areas Lauren Scally’s design challenges both public perceptions of the clinic and encourages different patient and staff behaviours. The design immediately transforms the clinic into a visible, welcoming and efficient space. The visibility of the clinic is highlighted by wrapping the existing red-brick building with a wooden panel, drawing the clinic down the street towards the main road.
A new insertion into the external entrance of the clinic divides up the space and draws its center out into the car park. Also constructed in wood, this unwrapping creates a new combined interior and exterior space, with more secluded areas for patient privacy and protection. Views and natural light are introduced through large openings and horizontal slits in the facades, creating uplift and atmosphere. Decking, panels and seating constructed in wood echo the aesthetic of the interior panels and these optional waiting areas makes the clinic more visible, welcoming and relaxing.
The new division of the staff area separates the receptionist from the other staff, affording more conversational privacy and creating defined stations within the office area. Replacing the glass partition with an optional safety guard introduces a more equitable interface between the two groups, further diffusing tension.
The homeless are amongst some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society. Their complex needs are largely hidden from the mainstream, as are the organisations that support them. The growing demand for homeless health services places pressures on the individuals who deliver that support. High quality, thoughtful architectural design can not only be effective in the response to a growing demand for these services, it can help provoke conversation about how these places should grow and exist in local communities.