Friday, 6 May 2016

A toddle through 20th and 21st century architecture at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford

Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, where I have worked since late 1995, was opened in 1940 as a tuberculosis sanatorium. Over the years, it grew to become the main hospital serving the town and the surrounding areas. As it outgrew the original premises, bits and pieces were added, but although some parts were partially demolished, nothing was completely knocked down and rebuilt. The end result is rather muddled, but an interesting catalogue of different architectural styles, and rather attractive in it's own way.

The original TB sanatorium was an elegant modern construction, with two long south-facing wings, designed so that the patients could get as much sunlight as possible.

Much of it was standing when I first arrived, but the side wings were later knocked down, and today this is all that remains. It's now somewhere at the back of the hospital, facing a car park.

The South Wing, with it's art deco doorway, also dates from that time.

Planning for the next phase of development began in the 1970s. After the usual delays, construction seems to have started in the 1980s. This was the main entrance to the hospital when I started working there, a building of the time, with it’s brick and concrete facade. It doesn’t look particularly distinguished, although it’s a little hard to tell, as I suspect that some bits might have been tacked on later. This sort of architecture has not been popular in the past, but in recent years, brutalism and concrete have become fashionable again. I think it does have a certain appeal, though this is perhaps not always easy to discern right now with all the skips and other utilities along the road outside.

The next expansion occurred in the 1990s, known at the time as “Project Alpha”. As you can see it’s a mediocre post-modern construction, typical of that rather unfortunate period, with pediments, string courses, and so on, tacked on for that "traditional" look. Quite frankly, it’s not to my taste. What, exactly, is the point of those silly little balls at the top? The less said about it the better.  Fortunately, it's not too obtrusive, and it's OK on the inside.

The most recent phase was completed in 2010. Modernism was back, thank goodness. The result is an inoffensive building, typical of its time, with a rather pleasant light filled atrium at the main entrance.

I haven’t mentioned the oldest building, Broomfield Court, built in 1904 as a manor house, and a rather nice example of t's type.

It currently houses the IT department and some other admin-type services. The hospital management used to be there too, but some years ago they moved out of their splendid isolation into the main hospital where the action was, which was the right thing to do. In case you're wondering, the current inhabitants are definitely not housed in the style to which the original owners were accustomed.

Whatever you might think about the architecture, the grounds are remarkably pleasant. There are trees and woodlands all around, and the green areas are very well planted and maintained. There are in fact two designated nature reserves within the hospital grounds, one of which I walk past on my way from the car park. The other is on my route to and from home if I choose to travel on foot. My father, an architect, thought that architecture was in may ways not as important as town planning or the environment in which the buildings were situated. Broomfield Hospital illustrates this point rather nicely. The architecture is of variable quality, but thanks to the gardens and the greenery, the general effect is very pleasing.

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