A Better Place To Be

Landmarks by Laura Ford. Photo Max McClure

By Jane Willis, Director, Willis Newson

The public art programme integrated into the new Southmead Hospital Bristol shows how involving high calibre artists working alongside the hospital community can create therapeutic environments which improve the wellbeing of patients, staff and visitors.
The hospital has been praised as “the best of the UK Private Finance Initiatives”. Architectural advisor to North Bristol NHS Trust, healthcare architect Ken Schwartz, said “Southmead Hospital merits being a stop on the grand tour of the world’s notable hospital facilities, along with Rikshospitalet in Oslo and the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands.”
It is, indeed, an amazing hospital full of light, texture, colour... and art. I was struck at how incredibly peaceful and calm the huge central atrium, which houses all of the public circulation routes, outpatients clinics and waiting areas, is. The whole space flows with a sense of effortless ease. Yet, this harmonious whole – the carefully crafted, light-filled space, the textures, colours and materials that create the restful interior, the integrated art that provides moments of reflection or distraction, that lifts the mood, or provokes emotional responses that encourage empathy and understanding – were only achieved through years of collaborative working and painstaking attention to detail.

Willis Newson started devising the public art plan for the hospital in collaboration with the architects BDP and the developer Carillion in 2007. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time. She is now 6 ½!
That’s a long-term commitment from all sides - the North Bristol NHS Trust team, the architect, the builder, and the arts team - to work together to integrate all aspects of design.
I have to admit; sometimes it was an uphill struggle. But I also have to say that, even when the going got tough, I don’t think that any member of the team let go of the integrated vision that we were striving for. And it paid off.
“The integrated approach to art plays an important role in the overall design quality of the building,” said Ken Schwartz. “I was pleased to see the abundance of thoughtfully chosen pieces of varying types and scales of artwork that help create an aesthetically pleasing and therapeutic environment. In particular it’s gratifying to see that these selections go beyond what we have come to know as “hospital art”; they genuinely challenge and touch the senses in many ways.”
Southmead Hospital Bristol’s public art programme features the work of six nationally and internationally recognised artists to animate spaces and create special places within the hospital building and grounds. These commissions sit as part of a wider public art programme which involves patients, staff and the wider community.
Peter Randall-Page’s water sculpture creates a peaceful place for contemplation; Jacqui Poncelet’s garden screens provide privacy and space for quiet conversation; Ally Wallace’s simple abstract sculptures animate a deep welled courtyard; Jaime Hayon’s high gloss, figurative pieces on tall plinths integrate with the landscape, emerging from and disappearing into the foliage; and Tobias Rehberger’s atrium light sculpture animates the three huge hospital atria and provides a focal point within the hospital building.
But I was most surprised by my personal reaction to Laura Ford’s bronze monkey sculptures. Although in a way they're fun and engaging, these monkeys - one with its arm in a sling, one with its leg in plaster and another cradling a cloth it its ear - are so full of humanity. They are stoic and vulnerable and immediately provoke an empathetic and caring response. Rather than just 'cheering things up', I think they might play a small part in helping people relate to their own, and others’, feelings. Isn’t this what we mean when we talk about ‘humanising’ the healthcare environment?
staff engagement projectsAs well as the six commissioned pieces and three artist-led public engagement projects, a three-day Fresh Arts Festival in October 2014 will mark the opening of the new hospital, celebrating the role that the arts are playing in bringing the building to life and connecting to the communities who use it.
Events will include a writer in residence working with patients and visitors, staff wellbeing workshops, live music on wards and in waiting rooms, performances by local choirs, artist-led knitting groups coming together to demonstrate the therapeutic nature of knitting while creating a special installation for the hospital entrance, printmaking workshops run by a local studio group and the Emergency Poet, a poetry on prescription service open to all.
There will also be a live theatre show which will share memories and tell stories of working at the old Southmead and Frenchay Hospitals collected during creative writing workshops for staff run by three local artists.
The final day of the Festival will be marked by staging a Speed Derby in the hospital atrium – the culmination of a series of workshops to help staff teams from across both old sites come together to identify with and take ownership of their new working environment. During the workshops, led by artists Assemble and Join, staff designed and created their own model cars to race on a specially created track built around the building.
changing gallery spaces. Photo: Jim WilemanA series of exhibitions by local schools and artists’ groups will take place within the hospital in specially created changing gallery spaces.
Installation of the work of the six commissioned artists began in September 2013 and is almost complete. The final works will be installed by October 2015 when a second Festival will mark the official opening of the whole hospital site. At this time, a community arts space will open in the new hospital which will host activities to support patient and staff wellbeing. Live music and community events will also take place in a specially created outdoor space.
The £1.1 million arts programme is a small part of North Bristol NHS Trust’s £430 million Southmead Hospital Bristol Private Finance Initiative (PFI) development. It builds on research which clearly demonstrates the direct benefits for patients of incorporating visual and performing arts into the hospital environment.
The project has been robustly championed by the Trust. Andrea Young, North Bristol NHS Chief Executive said: “The art at Southmead Hospital Bristol helps to create a more aesthetically pleasing environment, which is important for people’s sense of wellbeing. There are special places where people can have a quiet moment for reflection, there are things to help you feel more cheerful and things to comfort you. The art is helping to make Southmead Hospital a better place to be for patients, visitors and staff.”
Director of Nursing and Quality at North Bristol NHS Trust, Sue Jones, said: “We have a successful, active arts programme that has begun to reap benefits for patients. Art in hospitals improves patient satisfaction, their experience of being in hospital and, ultimately, their wellbeing. That has to be a good thing for patients, staff and the wider community.”
The six major commissions are:

Landmark Sculptures – Laura Ford
A series of five bronze sculptures of injured animals will landmark the key zones of the hospital, connecting them and drawing people across the hospital site. The artist for these works is Laura Ford, who is recognised internationally as one of the UK’s leading sculptors. She has exhibited widely and represented Wales at the Venice Biennale in 2005.
A bear with a sore back, a prairie dog with an injured neck and an elephant with a lump in his trunk will be seen in the Lime Tree Park approach leading to the main entrance of the new hospital from Southmead Road. On the Square, outside the main entrance, will be a lion with a bandaged paw. Three chimp sculptures have been installed near the entrance to the Emergency Department on Dorian Way where they sit nursing their injured limbs.
Laura Ford said:
“I am thrilled to be working on this project at Southmead and hope that the works will become familiar friends to the users of the hospital,”
Landmarks by Laura Ford. Photo: Jim Wileman 
Binary Clock Sculpture – Tobias Rehberger
Tobias Rehberger has created a series of hanging neon sculptures which function as binary clocks.
Each of the 78 neon light elements have been made by hand from mouth-blown glass by German company Nordlicht who have led the field of illuminated advertisements since 1949. They have used traditional production methods of glass blowing and metal working to create the work.
The design is a complex arrangement of suspension wires, neon elements, power cabling and computers to control the clock.
Tobias Rehberger said:
I was excited not only by the challenge of creating an artwork for such a unique space but also by the context of a hospital. This is the first time I have created work for a hospital environment and I hope that I have been able to contribute something that is beautiful, challenging and inspiring for the people who come as visitors, for the people who work there and most important for the people who have to go there as patients.
At first, the sculpture looks purely decorative, but then over time, you learn that it changes over time, and eventually you might realise that there’s a clock in there.
The subject of time I think is very relevant for a hospital in many different ways. For some it can't go by quick enough, others need more of it.”

Binary Clock Sculpture by Tobias Rehberger. Photo: Max McClure 

Mon Cirque Concourse Courtyard Sculptures – Jaime Hayón
The work of Spanish artist-designer Jaime Hayón blurs the lines between art, decoration and design and has been exhibited worldwide. This is the first commission he has carried out for a hospital. Mon Cirque consists of a series of sculpture groupings for each of the 3 courtyards, which open off the main hospital atriums.
Each group of 5 sculptures is finished in a different colour to distinguish the courtyards from each other. The sculptures fuse vase-like forms with figurative qualities to provide a narrative.
The works have been designed to integrate with the landscape so that they animate these enclosed spaces, emerging from and disappearing into the foliage, creating an element of surprise and visual engagement which brings these non accessible spaces to life.
Willis Newson was advised by Field Art Projects on the selection and appointment of Laura Ford, Jaime Hayon and Tobias Rehberger. Field Art Projects are an art consultancy based in Bristol run by Theresa Bergne who curated and co-produced the award winning public art programme for The Barts Breast Care Centre in London.
Mon Cirque by Jamie Hayon. Photo: Max McClure 
Source – Peter Randall-Page
Peter Randall-Page’s sculpted stone water feature for the Medical Day Garden is made from a naturally eroded granite boulder from Dartmoor which he has carved in low relief in a rippling pattern. Water emerges from the top of the sculpture to flow gently over its entire surface. The stone is surrounded by pebbles and subtly lit after dark.
Peter Randall-Page said:
"A calm and attractive environment can be an important element in healing. A garden provides spiritual nourishment through contact with nature. I hope that my sculpture, incorporating gently running water, will add to the meditative atmosphere of the courtyard and be conducive to a contemplative and healing environment for both patients and staff".
Source by Peter Randall-Page. Photo: Jim Wileman 
Ginkgo Sculptural Screens – Jacqui Poncelet
Ginkgo is Jacqui Poncelet’s design for a sequence of five stainless steel, vertical, free-standing screens positioned to create privacy in the patient-only areas of the Medical Day Garden.
The screens are sited between carefully chosen seating to create beautiful spaces in which patients and staff may sit, engage with nature, be private or take a breath of fresh air. Jacqui Poncelet consulted with staff from renal, chemotherapy and medical day departments about her ideas as she developed her designs. The screens use a pattern of leaves from the Ginkgo tree which is known for its medicinal properties and has a beautiful, butterfly-like shape.
The screens cast shadows making patches of dappled light through the day and night. The softly polished surfaces reflect ambient colour, subtly changing as the light moves over them.
Ginkgo Sculptural Screens by Jacqui Poncelet. Photo: Jim Wileman 
Coloured Discs, sculptures for the Welled Courtyard – Ally Wallace
Ally Wallace’s sculpture, Coloured Discs, is a series of nine coloured metal discs, mounted onto aluminium posts. The discs are designed to be viewed from above and appear as floating circles above the planting. This bold, simple idea introduces colour into the space and the composition integrates with the planted area.
Ally Wallace said:
“The welled courtyard is an interesting and also challenging space to work with, mainly due to the fact that the viewing points are so high up. My approach has been to design a work which will be viewed from the waiting area and corridors which look down into the courtyard."

Coloured Discs by Ally Wallace. Photo: Max McClure