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Westway Health Clinic

Part 2 Project 2002
Luke Pulham
Oxford Brookes University, UK
The project brief asked me to look at possible uses of the elevated Westway motorway that runs through West London as a new form of educational facility. My proposal suggests a research, teaching and treatment centre that could cover all areas of personal medical care, with the idea being triggered by the widespread obsession about health and the human body within contemporary culture.

What if space now started to look at mankind? Or maybe it does so already. What are the architectural analogies for botox injections, collagen, silicone implants, or liposuction? Does gene therapy announce the possibility of a total re-engineering of the human body? Is each of us now a mini-construction site, as Rem Koolhaas has suggested?

The quest to reinvent and reconstruct ourselves shows no sign of stopping, and if anything, it seems to be accelerating. What will happen when we need to achieve 3 to 5 billion individual upgrades across the world? Or might we perhaps be seeking more natural, non-interventionist ways in which to improve ourselves? The future of health care could just as well be in alternative, holistic, low-tech approaches.

The design strategy for this project explores the tensions behind such ideas. In doing so, it seeks to examine, manipulate and displace the human body within the urban environment. As people drive in and out of London, they are offered chances to treat themselves, either surgically or meditatively, and in turn they provide learning tools for those seeking careers in health care or body manipulation. Some treatments take a few minutes, others much longer, mirroring the changing patterns of congestion and speeds of transport at various times along the urban motorway.

Ongoing transformations in the building’s form are demonstrated through surgical metaphors, and by materiality and acts of appropriation. Parts of the building facade consist of adjustable surgical arms that hold giant fabric sheets onto which are projected images and textual information about the facilities inside. Elsewhere in the long linear block are inhabited landscape areas where people can recover and relax, salt baths for skin healing, drop-in pods at street level that move upwards into consultation and education zones, and drive thru-body scanning facilities for the visitor to experience.

The clashes between cosmetic surgery and alternative health strategies also highlight the desires and indulgences that lie behind human self-projection. What this generates architecturally is a hybrid form of interstitial space that can be used to investigate and make comment on the broader ethical and cultural issues that are related to personal image, health and consumption.

Luke Pulham


Luke took on an extremely ambitious range of ideas for this project. He wanted to merge ideas of education, heath and consumerism into one architectural proposal along the Westway elevated motorway as it snakes through the Notting Hill area. Commuters coming into or leaving London would be offered the chance to pull over and take a range of self-improvement treatments, from the new-age holistic practice of meditation and yoga and emotional replenishment, through to the quick-fix, intrusive practice of plastic surgery. The two extremes are presented in an intriguing dialectic with each other, never fully oppositional, but intermixed and hybridised in a complex sequence of open landscape and internalised pod-like rooms. Street-level consultation rooms bring in local residents and those involved in heath research and teaching, all being seamed together around the activities of practice and treatment. The immediacy of the facilities - a quick fix on the way home, whether on foot or bike or travelling by car - subverts the annoyance of traffic jams and the like, allowing citizens to enjoy the pleasures of feeling healthier or of being made beautiful.

Luke's scheme is a piece of sublime urban intervention. It would be stunning if built, and his excellent photomontages really give a sense of a building that would glow at night and would act as a magnet for all types of people as they inhabit and move through the city. The polemical intentions of the project are also crucial. Are we turning ourselves into building sites, and if so, are the processes of refurbishment and re-design now more applicable to humans than to architecture itself? Or are there other, less commercialised values of urban health that ought to be stressed instead?

Yet above all there is a sheer enjoyment in the spatial and formal manipulations that Luke displays in the project. His vision is that of an architect who is eager to deal with the making of the building right down to its most detailed levels. The exterior of the health centre consists of a sensuous breathing skin that is given responsive, interactive, human-like attributes, highlighting the possibilities of digitalisation to make more ‘intelligent’ buildings. The interplay of translucent surfaces, spiky structural supports and subtle lighting and colour effects make this a superb project. Not only are there some truly beautiful images on show here, but Luke also produced a series of fantastic animations to describe the ideas and realities of his proposal.

2002
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