Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital

Having already won the Prime Minister’s Better Public Building Award last year, it’s no surprise that the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital is in the running for a prestigious RIBA award.

The Brighton Hospital for Sick Children was founded by Dr R. P. B. Taafe in 1868 and was originally based at 178 Western Road. Its famous – now disused – red-brick building on Dyke Road was opened by Princess Alexandra as the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Sick Children in 1881. There are so many good things about the building; from the great work that went on inside for so many years to the pleasure that it gives to local residents and passers-by. With inflexible internal spaces and high running costs, it inevitably became unsuitable for its intended purpose and a decision was taken to move the service to the Royal Sussex County Hospital site.

When Charles Barry (who was responsible for the Houses of Parliament) designed the Sussex County Hospital in 1825, the site was surrounded by an abundance of open land – quite unimaginable bearing in mind the constraints of the site today. Green land opposite, across Eastern Road, is now home to the Sussex Eye Hospital, the Outpatient Department and the Audrey Emerton Building. But, the biggest changes were made behind. The extensive north-eastern section of the site was built in stages and is now dominated by the ‘Alex’ and the hideous 16-storey Thomas Kemp Tower. Incidentally, the County became the Royal County after receiving official recognition from King Edward VII.

The winged extensions that were added to Barry’s structure were undoubtedly improvements due to the way in which they emphasise its symmetry and add to its presence. The Alex just shows up later additions around the site though and it’s a shame that a proper masterplan wasn’t put in place for the whole complex. An appropriate style would be that of the bubbly and colourful boat-like Alex.

The Alex was designed by BDP and completed in 2007 at a cost of £37 million. Both inside and out, the building lifts emotions, which is a massive part of its job, in fact. It’s airy, bright, clean and classy. I honestly don’t think that it could have been done any better.

BDP Director Benedict Zucchi was ultimately responsible for the project and will, I am sure, bring yet another award to the firm for his work on this most grown-up of children’s buildings.