Shared space

Shared space

Parker, James

Architect Broadway Malyan’s relationship with the White Lodge multi-use learning disabilities centre in Chertsey, Surrey, dates back to the practice’s early days as a two-man band, at the beginning of the 1960s. It was then that the firm designed the original Children’s Centre on the site, launched and funded by local parents, to care for and educate children suffering with cerebral palsy.

The unit was completed in 1962, at a time when there was little educational provision for children with cerebral palsy. Highly motivated parents could find school places for their children, but they would then have to ferry them to different facilities for speech therapy, physiotherapy etc. Thus the ideal was to have all these facilities integrated on one site. The first building was a church hall, but together with the then Spastics Society (now Scope), who assisted with fundraising, plans were drawn up for a brand new building. The centre, claimed to be the first purpose-built centre of its type, was providing for over 100 children within a few weeks of opening, offering facilities including physiotherapy, speech therapy, education, hydrotherapy. The Spastics Society and the unit’s founders owned separate leases on the land, thus it was a collaborative relationship, not a hierarchical one, but all the fundraising raised locally by the society came into the Children’s Centre. ‘Clients’ from age two to around 15 were and continue to be referred to the centre by their GP or consultant paediatrician. They also receive home tutoring in addition to the education provided at the centre.

The services may have been groundbreaking, but unfortunately the building became problematic, partly due to the ground it was standing on. The pleasant wooded site (which the current building still stands on) has low lying areas which cause damp problems to several of the buildings, and thermal performance of the typically 1960s construction was poor, with little insulation, meaning high temperatures in summer, low temperatures in winter, and additional problems with noise from an adjacent major road. Flooding was common, says project director at the centre, Janet Deal: “We heated most of Chertsey.”

The health authority provided the land for the original centre, and, together with the educational authority, around 40% of the annual budget. However a large chunk of funding came from voluntary sources. They continue to be a major source of income, providing L250,000 of the L1 m annual budget. The rest currently comes from a combination of health authority, social services, and the local education authority. The reason for the multi-agency funding is that the centre has evolved over the years to provide a range of services, from mental health assessment, to education, to respite care. And the building has evolved along with the expansion in services, with its fourth phase starting later this year. With this milestone reached, (for in a unit such as this every building project is a major achievement), the facility will fully meet expectations in terms of accommodation provided, internal quality and an energy-efficient construction.

In the 1980s county boundaries were tightened, and funding was no longer available for the centre to take children from adjoining counties, and mainstream schooling was advocated centrally. However this meant children often lacked the range of support facilities available at White Lodge, particularly physiotherapy, often crucial to manage their conditions. The organisers realised they needed to work with the health and education authorities to remedy the situation. The Department of Education agreed to continue funding support, while the unit took over the Child Development Unit service from the local St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey, essentially an assessment unit.

This cut out the middle man, and enabled the unit to begin work with children at a much younger age (ie babies), in an assessment unit backed by all three agencies. While children had to go to mainstream or special schools from age five, the unit offered support to them, training teachers and helping children when necessary with learning skills. The unit also consolidated its role as a resource centre for the whole family, widening the net from just cerebral palsy to other disabilities. With the refocusing of the unit’s services, the building required major refurbishment, firstly to provide more space. Most rooms changed their usage throughout the year. The children tended to all play together, and had to be individually ‘extracted’ for therapy sessions. However this was no longer seen as appropriate, and now the approach is more holistic, with education and therapy interlinked. Janet Deal says that if the unit had stayed as it was, it would not exist now, because it would not have the funding. The unit also runs outreach services at St Peter’s Hospital for parents, mother and toddler services, and a range of other schemes, in its role as a learning disabilities centre for the community. A separate building provides respite care for 45 clients over 18 years of age. There is also a ‘Cetec’ training centre in computer skills for attendees at the centre.

The brief to the architects (whose project architect Steven Costello has been a constant presence), was a low-maintenance building with flexible rooms, child-friendly despite its relatively large size. Janet Deal says that the goal of a building that was cheap to run hadn’t quite materialised, partly because of the onerous cost of maintenance agreements on the various pieces of equipment required for care and treatment of severely disabled children. These costs were not included in the budget. However other running costs, eg heating, have decreased.

The original hope at the outset of planning in the mid-nineties was that it would be possible to complete the refurbishment in two phases. This wasn’t possible however as the building and its 85 staff had to remain in operation, and there wasn’t space for decanting. The unit also has to maintain a high-level fund-raising operation to stay in existence (functions for which take place in the unit itself). Thus a four-phase programme was decided upon.

The newly created areas have been designed for maximum energy efficiency, with a high thermal mass, recycling heat where possible, high insulation, and dry stack effect natural ventilation (see p18). White Lodge now provides the sensitive care required in light, airy and spacious accommodation, that enhances the successful retained elements of the original 1960s building, but has a more modern approach where appropriate. And Broadway Malyan has virtually treated the White Lodge as its pet project in the field, as Steven Costello explains: “I have always had a passion for this place, because it has broken through the knot of ideas of how healthcare should be”.


The building’s four major phases of refurbishment cover administration, the child assessment unit, the gym, sensory rooms and consultation rooms, and lastly the shared space and adult centre. Although now looking like a complete unit, it awaits the addition of the new family respite centre adjacent to provide a total resolution of the client’s desires. However due to the long association of architect and client, the phases, although having to be carefully handled due to the sensitive nature of the patients, have produced a very integrated and harmonious result.

The existing flat roofed 1960s building’s useful life had expired, thus a new structure was created on a simple racetrack plan, but comprising “fingers” of accommodation linked with existing buildings. As well as assisting the phasing, this approach of adding units also meant that the building could be considered an annexe and was thus VAT-exempt.

From the discreet entrance and patients’ reception, the corridor runs left past admin offices. These feature high level glazing, reducing glare for staff working on computers etc. A separate staff entrance is found at the first corner of the racetrack, where the kitchen, staff lounge and laundry are also located. Around the corner the consulting and therapy rooms begin, with the hydrotherapy facilities off to the left. A large soft play area has been provided here for the very young patients. Parents have their own private lounge at the end of the circuit, facing out to the wooded car park. The landscaped courtyard at the centre is purely for staff use. Perhaps this is a necessity given the nature of many patients’ conditions, and no doubt it is a boon to hard-working staff to get some peace and quiet, but it would be desirable to have more access to nature for patients and relatives on such a pleasant site.

The nursery is found on a corridor running parallel to the south side of the racetrack: a very large, pleasant naturally-lit space, as detailed below. At the end of this,corridor is the spacious child assessment unit, which has adjoining observation rooms.

At the corners of the plan there are ‘nodes’

created by original 1960s glazed corner pyramids — retained partly due to their positive association with the unit’s identity. An additional reason for their retention was the copious natural light they provide. Natural light also enters circulation corridors via Monodraught ‘Sunpipes’ installed in the roofs. Colours inside the unit are bright and varied, and are pleasing to an extent that you do not notice the relative absence of artwork. Finishes, including doors, are generally of warm solid wood.


The engineers worked closely with architect and client to employ solutions which were not only innovative for this type of building, but were also experimental for the professionals involved. Energy modelling techniques helped to achieve the results, which include the use of low-maintenance laminated oak window and screen construction, produced from scrap “thinnings”, giving high insulation levels. These also have the benefit of being warm in appearance and touch.

The south-facing roofs over each “finger” provide shade, while allowing light to corridors and rooms via clerestory glazing, reducing the need for artificial light to a minimum. As well as obvious energy savings, this helps avoid the problems of glare for children who spend a great deal of time on the floor. The roof forms are also designed to maximise natural cross-ventilation, and the atmosphere in the unit is certainly not the familiar stuffy, dark place you might associate with such services. Indeed it is the exact opposite, with light flooding in from high windows across attractive wood-pannelled undersides of eaves, which extend into rooms. An airy feeling is achieved without any loss of privacy.

Natural materials (wood, linoleum, organic paint, wool upholstery) have been used where possible. Insulation is aided by a German system of insulation and render on single leaf blockwork, providing a “breathing wall” Services have been designed to be as simple as possible for the client to maintain.


Director of the centre Jackie Bremner told HD that as well as winning an environmental award from the local council, (partly due to recycling initiatives), the scheme has also gone down very well with staff. She says the retention rate is “very high,” adding that this is due to the “ownership of the service, that created the building.” And project director Janet Deal adds: “Patients say that the building shows they are valued”. She says that the feel is of a “happy, connected environment.”

The hand-in-glove relationship between client and architect has borne fruit in all the ways that one would would expect.

Client: White Lodge Centre

Cost: L532,000 (phase 1), L860,000 (phase 2), L880,000 (phase 3)

Start on site: August 1996 (phase 1), August 1996 (phase 2), September 2000 (phase 3)

Completion: August 1997 (phase 1), July 1998 (phase 2), September 2001 (phase 3)

Total gross external area: 1,725 m^sup 2^

Architect: Broadway Malyan

Quantity surveyor: Madlin Et Maddison (phases 1 and 2), EJ Slaven Associates (phase 3)

Structural engineer: Barton Engineers

Services engineer: Dowling Blunt (phases 1 and 2), AJD Design (phase 3)

Energy consultant: ECD

Planning supervisor: Hunter Price Partnership

Landscape architect: Groundworks Thames Valley

Highways consultant: Denis Wilson Et Partners

Town planning consultant: Broadway Malyan Planning

Acoustic consultant: Cole Jarman

Main contractor: Lampard & Partners (phase 1), Finch (phase 2), MCS (phase 3)

Copyright Wilmington Publishing Ltd. Mar 2002

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.