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Posted on 4th February 2015

Today’s primary care health centres are a far cry from the traditional GP practices of the past. With more services being delivered at a local level, flexible buildings that centralise a variety of facilities in a single location are required.

This means that many health centres, like the Lion Medical Centre in Stourbridge, need larger premises with custom-designed facilities.

The Lion Medical Centre provides services for 26,000 patients, but the design and construction challenges were not simple due to the size of the building or the number of services that needed to be incorporated.

The £8.5m project involved a combination of a new build scheme and the refurbishment of a derelict Grade II* listed former foundry, which had to be carried out with minimum compromise to the integrity of the building in terms of its fabric, features and significance.

Design Challenge

The Foster & Rastrick Foundry in Stourbridge was where the first steam locomotive to run on rails in America was manufactured in the early 19th century and it continued to be manufactured right up to 2004 when, after a fire, the building had been left vacant and derelict.

When Abacus Chartered Architects received the brief to refurbish the building as part of the ambitious Lion Medical Centre development, the former foundry was on the English Heritage ‘at risk’ register.

Comments Graham Sutherland from Abacus: “We needed to develop a satisfactory repair strategy for the existing Grade II* listed building and develop a formula for the integration of an efficient medical facility fit for the 21st century and beyond.

“We had to balance the conservation requirements of the site and the building and develop a solution that enabled the development of a health care facility that successfully mixes old and new structures and styles.”

In order to achieve this, the delivery partners worked closely with the client and adopted a design philosophy of appropriately repairing and conserving the building, rendering it secure and preserving its special features.

Before work could begin on the building, however, the site’s flood risk had to be addressed due to the nearby River Stour. The river bank was re-profiled to National Risk Assessment (NRA) approval and the design incorporated raised finished floor levels to further mitigate the risk of flood.

Loose Fit

With the building in such a delicate state of repair, Abacus needed to minimise the impact of the refurbishment on the existing structure.

A full, high resolution digital survey scan was carried out to enable accurate recording, specifying and scheduling of fabric repairs and an innovative ‘loose fit’ approach was devised for the building’s interior. This involved a structural frame for the new internal spaces which is set within the skin of the shell as a structurally independent steel frame with minimum points of contact with the existing building.

Graham continues: “The interior was designed as a loose fit so that the long-term viability of the building was secured as part of an effective building management and maintenance strategy.”

The same principle was followed for the mechanical and electrical design, with penetrations through the existing fabric kept to a minimum.

While the existing foundry building is connected to the new build element of the scheme via link bridges on each storey, there has been minimum intervention and connection to the listed building in order to preserve its original appearance and protect the structure during the construction phase.

Natural Light

The former foundry building has been laid out as a two-storey structure with a large, double height atrium reception and two internal staircases, one for use by the public and one ‘back office’ staff staircase. The building interior is lightweight and loose fit so that the medical centre can reconfigure the space for alternative use in the future without any significant structural works, with a number of consulting rooms lining either side of a central walkway on the first floor.

Maximising natural light and a feeling of spaciousness was central to the success of the design and this has been achieved both in the unusual roof structure and the extensive use of glass balustrades.

The roof structure is of particular historic and technical significance and extra care was taken in its repair, conservation and integration into the refurbishment programme. The result is an innovative single truss span with a cast beam that mirrors the form of the original wooden roof beams, with light angle truss framing above. It incorporates numerous skylights, which deliver light to the ground floor via the atrium, adding to the natural light provided by the original arched windows.


The main stairs and stair voids echo this mixture of industrial references and openness with a Mono balustrade system from Delta Balustrades, incorporating a 50 series Sigma stainless steel handrail and a HiBuild coated Mono balustrade with 10mm clear glass infill panels and standard barrel glass fittings. The balustrade system enables a mezzanine effect on the first floor overlooking the reception atrium.

Comments Garth Boyt from Delta Balustrades: “The interior succeeds in articulating the building’s industrial heritage while maintaining the openness of a contemporary healthcare building with clean lines and an open aspect.

“The balustrades are central to that approach, ensuring that the stairs and voids are safely enclosed while allowing light and visibility to flow thorough the interior.”

For the back office stairs, Delta Balustrades worked with the architects to value engineer the specification, installing an Orbis system with HiMet metallic coated handrails and balustrades and 10mm clear glass infills with bolt through glass fittings.

Garth continues: “Using the slightly lower spec option in the back office areas reduced the cost of the project while maintaining the ‘look’ of the new interior.”

Old Meets New

While the new build element of the scheme echoes many of the design features of the refurbishment, including the balustrades and the industrial references, the overall effect is very much old meets new. The brick façade and arched windows of the former foundry, contrast with the angular glazing and cladding of the new building, creating a forward looking medical centre that has literally brought the past back to life.

Overall, however, the success of the scheme can be summarised by English Heritage’s comments praising the scheme as “an example of how constructive conservation can transform a serious problem building into a community and architectural asset.”