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The Cruciform building was designed in 1896 by Alfred Waterhouse RA (1830-1905) as a replacement building for University College Hospital, which had an earlier building on the Gower Street frontage of the same site. Waterhouse was one of the most prolific architects of the Victorian era, by number of built commissions. He had already designed and built over 30 buildings, including one for the Prudential Assurance Company, as well as Manchester Town Hall and the Natural History Museum in Kensington. University College Hospital was to be his last major commission. His son Paul, who had become a partner in their architectural practice in 1891, saw the building to its formal opening in 1906, one year after his father's death. Waterhouse latterly has had a reputation for unsympathetic but efficient architecture; his great skill was in planning, particularly on constricted urban sites.

Hospital planning of the late Victorian era on open sites generally was in the form of separate ward pavilions linked by long corridors. Space between the wards allowed for sunlight, fresh air and ventilation, which were all thought to contribute as much to patients' well-being as the medical treatments. The Cruciform's bold diagonal plan with a single service core and radiating wings maintained the virtues of light and ventilation but limited horizontal circulation by stacking the wards in 4 storeys on a podium containing the support facilities. This innovative scheme was preferred by the hospital's benefactor, Sir John Blundell Maple, to an optional quadrangular plan. Maple offered the projected £100,000 cost. The final construction cost was actually £200,000 but Maple generously paid.

The diagonal form allowed for wards of 20-25 beds with end pavilions for lavatories that were separated from the rest of the wing by an open arcade allowing cross flow ventilation. These towers were expressed picturesquely by the turrets on each corner of the block. The building is not symmetrical, as close study will reveal. Each wing was built consecutively.

The Cruciform building uses an architectural vocabulary familiar from Waterhouse's earlier work but interpreted in a free treatment of the renaissance rather than gothic style. This is seen as curved arches, classical mouldings to window surrounds and contrasting string course banding. There is a heavy dentilled cornice below the attic storey and a picturesque distribution of dormers, chimneys, gables and turrets at roof level. Waterhouse selected his materials for their proven durability, hard red brick and terracotta dressings in red and earth tones, more economic and less susceptible to erosion in polluted Victorian cities than stone.

Internally practical, hardwearing and easily-cleaned materials were used: terrazzo, mosaic and wood block for the floors and glazed bricks for the walls, with marble for the formal outpatients' entrance.

The hospital closed in 1995 and was purchased by University College London. It has been subject to a complete refurbishment to give the building a new lease of life as the Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research and the pre-clinical teaching facility for the Royal Free and University College Medical School. As the building is listed Grade II by English Heritage, the refurbishment sought to remove some of the post- Waterhouse extensions to reveal the heavy cornice from ground level. Other extensions were re-clad with sympathetic materials. A new block was built in the service yard for boiler and chiller plant and a new lecture theatre was constructed between the North wings with its roof hidden behind the parapet wall. A thorough clean and remedial work were undertaken to all the brickwork and terracotta, although this was in remarkably good condition for its age. The building was re-roofed and external plumbing was removed.

Internally the layout proved adaptable to its new functions. Over the years as a hospital the original arcades of the central circulation area were infilled, the glazed brickwork was plastered over and the floors covered in vinyl. As part of the refurbishment, as many of these original features as are compatible with the new usage have been uncovered and restored. This work, together with sympathetic interventions, bring light into the core and give an increased spatial awareness.


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