Ellina Webb visits the “Living with Buildings” exhibition at the Wellcome Collection and discusses the innovative building techniques used in The Global Clinic commission.

Health, wellbeing and unique construction techniques for (and in) buildings has been a huge topic for us on the Hub as standards like the WELL building standard and our own Mitsubishi Electric Green Gateway philosophy continue to shape our mind-set and the way we design our products in a changing world.

Healthy buildings that are built sustainably and provide the best indoor environment for occupants is a global movement and excitingly the construction and technology industry is taking more and more steps forward when it comes to achieving this in line with Government legislation. 

In fact, as we move in 2019 I’m already reading online about Europe’s drive for all new buildings to be built to “nearly zero-energy” standards, starting with those publicly owned. What’s more is that exhibitions like the Wellcome Collection's current “Living with Buildings” show are highlighting the unique ways that “thinking outside the box” can achieve when it comes to construction and wellbeing; especially for publicly owned buildings like health centres.

I recently went to the “Living with Buildings” exhibition are here are some of my thoughts on one particular part which focuses on The Global Clinic commission.

What was it about?

The exhibition explores the link between architecture and health and displays a unique commission called “The Global Clinic” which has been created in a modular construction style in order to be both nomadic and adaptable to a variety of extreme outdoor environments. The main requirement of this type of building is to provide healthcare in emergency situations such as conflicts and natural disasters; without compromising on practical design and a healthy indoor environment.

The clinic was actually created in response to the Wellcome Collection’s call for proposals demonstrating how architecture could respond to a global issue in health today. The winning design was a collaboration between architects, engineers and an independent humanitarian charity called Doctors of the World.

Doctors of the World work “at home and abroad to empower excluded people to access healthcare” and this sees 3,000 volunteers in 80 countries provide medical care, strengthen health systems and address underlining barriers to healthcare. It was therefore noted in the exhibition information that inadequate options available for offering treatment in the field was a driver to producing such an unique building.

How can this inspire innovation in construction?

The Global Clinic’s unique construction is from pieces of plywood accurately cut by a computer controlled machine (the stencils of this, line the walls of the exhibition). These pieces then fit together in the style of flat pack furniture, almost like a modular wardrobe that you can adapt and add onto depending on the size of space you have available. In this case the clinic structure can be adapted depending on the need and scale of the situation and those who require medical attention.

Once the basic structure is erected, the rest of the clinic’s infrastructure can be added depending on the environment where it is located. For example, in wet countries waterproofing can be added along with ventilation and insulation in order to make a suitable and comfortable indoor atmosphere. Whereas in hot and arid countries, insulation can be removed. This environmental adaption is extremely important and environmental and services consultants ChapmamBDSP worked closely with the team to ensure the design was adjustable to local climates.

Modular building and ease of building seems to me like an area of construction which is likely to grow over the next few decades as migration, natural disasters and climate change worsens. Governments need to be reactive to sudden changes by having systems in place that allow for buildings to be erected safely, easily and quickly. In combination with this, building infrastructures have to be flexible too which is why products such as modular HVAC systems are idea; they tick all the boxes when it comes to speed, efficiency, indoor comfort requirements and effective energy use.

Modular chillers for example can be delivered the next day and the scale can be increased or decreased depending on a building’s expansion, contraction or change of use.

Is adaptation the future of construction in a changing world?

I’ve spoken above about modular construction but the beauty of the Global Clinic and its innovative construction techniques is the advancement it represents in “mobile architecture”. In fact according to this article on the Telegraph it only takes about a day to erect and weighs just 400kg.

Furthermore, because the structure of the clinic is made via computer (CNC) the plans can be emailed to any computer/CNC system enabling local manufacturing – a low carbon and money saving solution.

This is similar to the innovations in 3D printing which have hit the headlines over the past 5 years. The growth in the 3D printing industry has seen 3D printed housing become a huge talking point in 2018. In fact last year saw a family move into a 3D printed house in France which was built as a prototype for bigger projects aiming to making housebuilding quicker and cheaper.

The house took 54 hours to print and four months to construct with windows, doors and a roof. Overall it cost 20% less than an identical traditional construction.

Final thoughts

Adapting to the needs of this changing world opens up a vast number of opportunities for the construction industry – off-site construction, modular construction and mobile architecture in combination with CNC manufacturing and 3D printing are just a few of the concepts that are being explored.

All I know is that in a world with an expected population of 9.7 billion by 2050, with an expectation of a global temperature increase of 2C by 2050 and in a country with an increasing problem of homelessness, more and more global crisis’ are going to rely on suitable building solutions like the Global Clinic concept which thinks outside the box of traditional construction.

Ellina Webb is a Senior Marketing Specialist at Mitsubishi Electric