Madrid-based architect Nieto Sobejano was appointed to design a new facade for a 1965 building at Bristol Royal Infirmary following a limited competition in 2013, in which ideas were also sought from three artists (Daniel Buren, Luke Jerram, Anthony Malinowski) and two other architects (Tham & Videgard, SO-IL). The winning proposal did not aim to radically alter the image of the precast concrete building, which had been altered over time and was in poor condition, but rather to “transform it following the same geometrical law which had generated it”, says the architect. “We limited ourselves to wrapping the existing grid with white aluminium profiles, thus solving the technical problems of the facade”.
Original facade, completed in 1965
Facade model (ph: Diego Hernández)
The new aluminium lattice also detaches from the glazed facade behind, “like a veil that adheres and separates from the skin”, says the architect, screening a later glazed entrance foyer and creating interstitial spaces that “suggest a new relationship between the hospital and its urban context. Facade and building enter a dialogue in which it is no longer easy to discern who is subject to who, the part or the whole”.
While designing a facade for an existing building may seem to contradict a conception of architecture as a “comprehensive and unitary” activity, says Nieto Sobejano, the project presented the opportunity to “reset the relationship between the part and the whole, the unity and the fragmentation, and between the initial intentions of the author and the contingencies that affect the life of the building”.