University Hospitals Bristol: Facade Design

Bristol Royal Infirmary facade - Image (c) Craig Auckland  fotohaus


The facade of the Bristol Royal Infirmary was lamented as ugly, dirty and in a state of disrepair and was even voted as the ugliest building in Bristol.

Alongside this, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust knew they needed to improve it structurally to fix safety, environmental and maintenance issues.

When the Trust asked us for ideas on how to improve the appearance at the same time as fixing the disrepair, we suggested running a design competition.

Willis Newson put together a shortlist of six; three artists (Daniel Burren, Luke Jerram and Anthony Malinowski) and three architectural practices (Nieto Sobejano, Tham and Videgard and So-Il)

Concepts were developed by all six practices and - after much public consultation including displays in the hospital and front page coverage and an online poll run by the Bristol Evening Post – three practices were selected by the project steering group to take their designs to the next stage.

All three architects’ practices made it through to the second stage of the competition and feedback on final designs was sought from the public at consultation events in the hospital and in the city shopping centre, as well as at an exhibition at the Architecture Centre in Bristol.

Public involvement created a sense of excitement and anticipation beyond the immediate hospital community and helped to fuel momentum for the project.

The winning design was by Madrid-based practice Nieto Sobejano. Called Veil, the structure was developed in partnership with local architects CODA, installed by DB Facades and unveiled in June 2016.

Bristol Royal Infirmary new facade - Image (c) Craig Auckland  fotohaus

The facade is a striking modern skin over the top of the existing structure, made of powder-coated aluminium and glass which provides a maintenance-free, energy-efficient new frontage for the hospital.

It sweeps across the existing face of the BRI, linking the recently added Welcome Centre extension into the main building to create a unified whole.

The rhythm of the new screen by Nieto Sobejano echoes and respects the vertical rhythm of the old 1970s concrete frontage.

A new green buffer zone between the hospital and the main road on which it sits now creates a breathing space for patients and visitors as they arrive at the hospital.

An integrated LED light installation transforms the building at night into an iconic landmark and can be changed for special days and events.

The design provides improved acoustic performance, excellent insulation, better ventilation, thermally-efficient windows and complete watertightness.

Nieto Sobejano said "It was a challenge to think of just designing a facade to an existing building, but we came to see that by providing the building with a new facade we were creating a new urban space.”

Bristol Royal Infirmary new facade Nieto Sobjeano - Image (c) Craig Auckland  fotohaus

Images all (c) Craig Auckland  fotohaus


The facade is an efficient modern skin over the top of the existing structure, made of powder-coated aluminium and glass which will be easy to keep clean.

"We believe that Nieto Sobejano's design strongly meets the original aims of the commission, namely to create a landmark building for Bristol that is welcoming and non-threatening. "It enhances the streetscape and public realm, and reflects, through excellence in design, our reputation for clinical excellence.”

Robert Woolley
Chief Executive Office at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust