Bristol Heart Institute: Public Art Programme

Artwork at Bristol Heart Institute
Wave by Jo Fairfax


Working with University Hospitals Bristol NHS Trust, project architects Coda, and the builders Laing O’Rourke, Willis Newson managed the commission and development of a public art strategy for the new Bristol Heart Institute, opened to patients in spring 2009.

Eight stunning integrated artworks are the result. These range from an entrance lighting commission and a suspended sculpture in the atrium, to works for the ceilings of patient bed lifts. The commissions support the patient’s journey through the building and create a sense of local ownership and pride. They contribute to wellbeing by making the hospital environment feel less institutional and clinical, but no less functional.

This project won the Building Better Healthcare Award for the Best Use of Visual Art in Healthcare 2009.

The entrance to the building is tucked away so Willis Newson commissioned work by artist Jo Fairfax to highlight it and welcome patients and visitors arriving at the main entrance. Wave references the pulse of the heart with a rippling laminate framework and thousands of fibre-optic strands which light up in coloured waves, creating an impressive first impression and helping with wayfinding.

Artist Walter Jack created a work to add interest to an internal courtyard which is visible to patients and to screen the view of the façade beyond. His work Endless Rings is a series of seven suspended sculptures made of powder-coated aluminium. Each takes the shape of a ring of tetrahedra which can be ‘rolled’ to create an endlessly opening and closing aperture. Each of the seven rings is set at a different point in the ‘rolling’ cycle. 

Art in hospital. Arts and Health: "Endless Rings" by Walter Jack for Bristol Heart Institute. Commissioned by Willis Newson for University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust. Photo by Paul Highnam

The artworks by Marion Brandis were created through close collaboration with hospital porters and she also created artworks for the ceilings of the patient bed lifts and the walls of the lift lobbies. These reassure, calm and distract patients on their journey between wards and treatment areas. The ceiling and wall works depict delicate leaf shapes arranged on a striking sky blue background to create a lacey pattern.

Other artworks at the Bristol Heart Institute commissioned by Willis Newson include Jan Blake and Rob Olins’ suspended sculpture Lifeboat which forms a striking focal point within the main atrium. This piece is a metaphor for life, contrasting fragility with the strength and magic of its segmented construction. It is a curved structure of metal and coloured glass, with a shape which references boats, fish and waves.

To create a welcoming impression at the entrance to the unit, Roso Studios designed a surface treatment to enhance the outpatients’ reception desk, alongside a complementary feature wall. With a stylish modern feel the artwork helps to convey the quality of care patients will receive.

Externally, Linda Schwab’s wallworks evoke the fluid, lacy edge of a tree canopy and form a series relating to the theme of ‘flow’. This is then carried through internally with feature wall photographic collage works.

Download a case study for this project or see more images here


“… the artworks integrate really well with the overall building design. The process we went through to deliver them was also exemplary in terms of working together and this was a major factor in the success of the project.”

Dave Leverton
RIBA - Regional Design Leader, Laing O’Rourke