The £250,000 Wolfson Economics Prize 2021 has been awarded to Ab Rogers Design and its ‘Living Systems’ submission at a gala dinner in London.
It is the fourth time that the prize – run in partnership with ‘think-tank’, Policy Exchange – has been awarded since its inception in 2011.
Entrants to this year’s competition were asked: ‘How would you design and plan new hospitals to radically improve patient experiences, clinical outcomes, staff wellbeing, and integration with wider health and social care?’ Ab Rogers Design’s The ‘Living Systems’ team envisions hospital buildings becoming a ‘third carer’ alongside medical staff and a patient’s family and friends, and sets out a vision for smaller hospitals which could be built across England and sit within the community ‘as centres of wellness as well as cure’. The 200-bed sites would be constructed out of a pre-fabricated, modular 12-storey design, with an internal cross-laminated timber shell so that wards can be easily partitioned into isolation rooms. A central open area on the ground floor – ‘the podium’ – would incorporate ‘a thriving market’, and be accessible to the entire community. The plan would also re-design staff facilities, including common areas, to improve working conditions and increase staff retention across the NHS.
The Living Systems hospital design features a rooftop area for hospital staff and volunteers, incorporating offices, meeting rooms, and congregation areas, including a bar and canteen. A series of raised beds would convert the remaining rooftop area into an allotments for growing fresh produce. These facilities could be used by staff and patients, and would inform a programme of education within the community on diet and lifestyle. The bulk of patient rooms and wards are on the south side of the building to maximise natural daylight, with greenery and views accessible from every bed.
The plan to improve working conditions comes at a time of widespread challenges for the NHS in the recruitment and retention of staff. Recent official statistics from the Nursing and Midwifery (NMC) register show the number of people leaving the nursing profession is at its highest since 2017, with nearly 14,000 quitting between April and September 2021.
The winning team – led by Ab Rogers Design – now plans to develop a research unit to help develop their ideas further, in the hope of seeing them implemented across hospitals in England.
Congratulating Ab Rogers Design and the other entrants, Health Secretary, Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, said the new hospitals built over the next decade would provide ‘state-of-the art facilities for staff and patients, prioritising the latest digital technologies, sustainability, and modern methods of construction’.
The organisers of the 2021 Wolfson Economics Prize – (the prize is second only to the Nobel Prize in monetary terms) – say this year’s competition entries provide clear evidence of ‘a new focus on the long-term improvement in hospital provision in Britain and globally’. In addition to improving the care pathway, the proposals ‘re-imagine hospital design and style –including how these vital facilities integrate with their communities’.
The four runners-up – which included proposals to base hospital design on neuroscience and the symmetry found in nature, redesign hospitals into starfish-shaped pods to modernise hospital activity, re-imagine the emergency department, and relocate acute and non-acute health facilities to town centres – will each receive £10,000.
Ab Rogers, of Ab Rogers Design, said: “We are thrilled to have won the Wolfson Economics Prize. Our proposal is the result of the collective intelligence of an extraordinary team of hospital workers, patients, and thinkers, all coming together to create a humanist hospital. We now look forward to developing this into a real life hospital.”
Lord Kakkar, Chair of the Judging Panel and Chair of the King’s Fund, said: “While the judges were deeply impressed by the calibre of thinking behind each of the finalist proposals, Living Systems stood out. Good hospital care is about teamwork. The Ab Rogers submission is a visionary proposal to make the hospital itself part of that clinical team, with the building aiding healing and recovery. The result is a thoughtful, consultative design which recognises the needs of human beings in medical environments – whether they are patients, visitors, or staff.”
Created in 2011, the Wolfson Economics Prize has previously sought policy solutions on rethinking roadbuilding (2017), delivering more homes via Garden Cities (2014), and reforming currency unions (2012). The judges’ panel, chaired by Lord Kakkar, also includes Professor Brian Donley MD, CEO of Cleveland Clinic, London; Dame Elaine Inglesby-Burke CBE, former Chief Nurse at Salford Royal; Dame Laura Lee, CEO of the cancer charity, Maggie’s; Robert A.M. Stern, founding partner of Robert A.M. Stern Architects, and Nigel Wilson, CEO of Legal & General. Judges this year marked nearly 100 entries from over 250 organisations from 15 different countries.