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Finsbury Health Centre
17 Pine Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1
associated engineer
Sir Ove Arup
date  1938
UK era  Modern  |  category  Building  |  reference  TQ311824
Working with architect Berthold Lubetkin and the design group he headed, Tecton, Ove Arup found like-minded collaborators — Arup and Lubetkin thought that architecture should be an instrument of social change. Among the socially-aware projects they worked on together is Finsbury Health Centre.
While working as a reinforced concrete specialist with JL Kier & Co, Arup had formed a close association with Lubetkin and Tecton. Central to Tecton was a socialist belief in equality and a determination to make under-privileged Finsbury, then the second-smallest London borough, a model of progress in housing, education and health. Lubetkin’s message at the opening of Finsbury Health Centre was that "nothing was too good for ordinary people".
This team had already worked on socially aware community-based building schemes such as Highpoint I, a "workers' housing" development for the employees of Gestetner, the office equipment manufacturer. Finsbury Health Centre was commissioned by Chuni Katial, an Indian doctor, on behalf of the Public Health Committee of Finsbury Borough Council.
The health centre is H-shaped in plan, with two symmetrical wings flanking a central block that houses the reception and waiting area. It used to house space for what was called “electrical treatment”, in fact the provision of artificial sunlight. Above are a lecture theatre and a part-covered terrace.
The splayed wings funnel visitors toward the bronze glazed entrance doors which are set into a wall of glass blocks. The south-west orientation of the building throws sunlight into the foyer, which has hard reflective surfaces, and once had red painted columns to reflect the project's political hue. Lubetkin called this "a happy optimistic place". Furniture by Alvar Aalto originally filled the waiting areas, and the reception area was an oval of polished marble.
In a similar vein to the planning at Highpoint I, structure and services are integrated. Patients need not climb stairs for treatment as all clinics were located at ground level. The floors in the wings of the H plan span between the long walls. These were cast as sandwich slabs with hollow spacing blocks between two layers of in situ concrete. Heating coils are cast into the lower of the slabs to provide ceiling heating to the rooms below.
The floor slabs are supported by concrete channels formed in situ as continuous horizontal service ducts. The top flange of the channel acts as a continuous sill for the ribbons of opening steel framed windows, set on a teak sub-framing. Removable spandrel panels are used as facing to the concrete channel, allowing services to be accessed from outside. The concrete channels are supported by concrete mullions, and the whole structure stabilised by concrete end walls to each block. These and other concrete elements are clad with square cream tiles.
Finsbury Health Centre is Grade I listed, as are other buildings by Lubetkin/Tecton/Arup.
Architect: Berthold Lubetkin, Tecton
Contractor: JL Kier & Co
Research: ND
"Modern Architecture, a Crirical History" by Kenneth Frampton
Thames & Hudson, London 1980
“Lubetkin’s Finsbury Health Centre — the ideal that time forgot” by Peter Davey
Building Design, March 2009, www.bdonline.co.uk

Finsbury Health Centre