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Architect presents a laundry list of sick children hospital failings

July 29 2019

Architect presents a laundry list of sick children hospital failings

A retired architect involved in the ‘reference’ design for a new children’s hospital for Edinburgh has intervened in the growing fiasco surrounding its delayed opening by offering to present a list of possible design defects to health secretary Jeane Freeman.

Robert Menzies claims that the flagship project was doomed from the off as a result of political pressures to avoid delays, which led to a litany of design failings which may have fed through to the finished build; including lifts which insufficient to ferry patients with equipment, classroom doors to narrow to push beds through and the loss of a one-way mirror in a child protection suite to a corridor.

There are fears these known issues may just represent the tip of a far bigger iceberg however with further checks now being carried out to the buildings ventilation, water and drainage systems.

Speaking to The Scotsman Menzies said: “The orthopaedic team wanted a lift that was bigger than the normal bed lift because, when you’ve got a patient with attachments, it’s difficult getting them in and out of a lift, so I told the lead architect three times we needed at least one bigger lift but it was never incorporated. It got to the point where I drew up a lift lobby layout with the big oversize lift and said, ‘That’s what they want,’ but they came back and said no, it was too late, it couldn’t be accommodated.

Looking at the latest plans, it’s just a standard bed lift. I only have the drawings that went to planning. They may have caught it, but I doubt it.”

Menzies says he raised similar objections to the issue of too narrow doors and loss of the two-way mirror says he was overruled by superiors each time to stick rigidly with the ‘reference’ design without adding delay.

The whistleblower added: “The comment I got back was, ‘We’re not interested in betterment, we’re interested in compliance’. They didn’t want any departure from reference design but they were agreeing our layout was better.”

As recently as 2 July the health board had trumpeted that the HLM-designed hospital was mere ‘days away’ from moving into the Little France facility from 9 July - but was forced to delay this indefinitely just two days later after the ventilation system was found to have failed national standards.

The problems mirror similar issues at a new ‘super hospital’ in Govan, Glasgow, where Freeman was forced to launch another design review over similar failures of its closed ventilation system.


Less than legit
#1 Posted by Less than legit on 29 Jul 2019 at 17:02 PM
Referring only to planning drawings? Looks like this chap might not be as integrated into the team as he thinks if he has to go to the public realm for drawings.

I struggle to see how any of his comments are helpful or substantiated. Perhaps a refresher on the ARB code is also in order.

I'm sure the BBC will be quick to call him if good old Dunlop isn't available though!
Nairn's Bairn
#2 Posted by Nairn's Bairn on 30 Jul 2019 at 08:24 AM
It's very easy to criticise other's work - it's what we commenters do on Urban Realm in an informal, sometimes humorous, sometimes informative forum.

We can all suggest ways of making other peoples buildings better – and show me a health building that couldn’t be improved by being more spacious or having better facilities. But sitting on the sidelines and compiling a list, presenting it to the Health Secretary and presumably publicising this, does not strike me as a particularly helpful or selfless move.

If you have had previous involvement in the early stages of a job it can be hard to bite your tongue as it moves forward, but unless you are actually part of the project team you don’t know how budget, timescale and brief dictated the end result.

With all due respect to Mr Menzies, anybody in practice who has had a ‘retired architect’ pop up to comment on a live project will know the sad sinking feeling that their contribution generates.

Basil Spent
#3 Posted by Basil Spent on 30 Jul 2019 at 10:07 AM
Mr Menzies intentions may be good but I find it difficult to take his points with any sense of validity when he attacks the architect. In a public project such as this items like over-sized lifts and inclusions of two way mirrors (which are minor in a project of this scale) are not entirely in the control of the architect and are taken due to cost considerations by the project managers and the client (Mr Menzies would know this if he was actually involved in the project in any meaningful way I would assume) . I feel disheartened to see this armchair architect attack another architect for a failing design when what we all as a profession should be challenging is procurement. A said case of architects as their own worst enemy yet again.
Uncle Bobs Bairn
#4 Posted by Uncle Bobs Bairn on 30 Jul 2019 at 11:50 AM
Oh dear, oh dear.

Is this the same Mr Menzies that couldn't leave the QEUH alone?!

I think someone needs to enjoy retirement and get a hobby.

As #2 says, if your not directly involved and don't know the current status of a project - keep schtump!!
Robin Bs Discount Store
#5 Posted by Robin Bs Discount Store on 30 Jul 2019 at 13:00 PM
How on earth is this berk even getting airtime..... i drew a bigger lift on the back of a fag packet and they ignored me. VE removes a one way mirror that i said would be better.....

boo-effing-who. This Menzies character should do something more productive, like growing tomatoes
#6 Posted by SG on 30 Jul 2019 at 16:21 PM
Good on you Bob.
Uncle Bobs Bairn
#7 Posted by Uncle Bobs Bairn on 30 Jul 2019 at 16:41 PM
Is that you Stuart?!
robert menzies
#8 Posted by robert menzies on 31 Jul 2019 at 00:06 AM
Usual staggering levels of ignorance on urban realm presumably from those who had no involvement. For the record I was involved on this project for five years - longer than any other architect. I was on first name terms with many of the clinicians and was voicing their frustrations as relayed to me personally because they are prevented from talking about it. (Same on the QEUH - they threatened disciplinary action against any staff who criticised the bids and I made my views on that known to the project director). I knew the budget and timescale and I helped evolve the brief. The planning drawings were those of the winning rival bid so a bit difficult to get 'integrated' with that team !!
These are the only publicly available drawings of what has been built. (As built and building control drawings are not normally available for security reasons). I have discussed these drawings with the then lead architect as he is a personal friend. He told me the reference design didn't work but they were advised they would be marked down if they changed it. We decided we could not simply copy mistakes and in so doing produce a sub-standard health facility so we changed the layouts to comply with national standards. We were correspondingly marked down. There was NOBODY who thought it was a good layout. And by the way, I have refused to appear on BBC, STV, and Good Morning Scotland re the QEUH so wrong there as well ! The letter I wrote was turned into an article. In it I merely said that if the Health Secretary was wanting a check on all breaches of national standards then she was in for a shock. I offered to make a list of the elements I know about to illustrate the scale of the problem.
Menzies Minion
#9 Posted by Menzies Minion on 31 Jul 2019 at 08:54 AM
gaun yersel!
Nairn's Bairn
#10 Posted by Nairn's Bairn on 1 Aug 2019 at 07:42 AM
#8 Isn’t it always the way - project managers getting in the way of the designers ideal. Presumably the final layout was signed off by somebody representing the client though, so I guess SOMEBODY liked it, even if it was out of financial necessity.

It’s a shame that your ideal layout was marked down, but good to see you’re not bitter about it.
robert menzies
#11 Posted by robert menzies on 1 Aug 2019 at 15:32 PM
It's not a question of being bitter (I've had that comment so many times !!). It's about being on the inside and seeing what happens and then watching as a completely sanitised version of reality is presented to the public ably backed by those urban realm readers who have had no knowledge of the project but nevertheless believe that their opinion on what went on needs to be heard. Your cynicism marks you down as somebody in the latter category. I sat in on the 1:200 sign-off process where one clinician signed off her layout despite saying it was "totally useless" whilst the other said her department design was "unacceptable" as she signed. All the project managers wanted was a signature so that they could say everybody was happy when they clearly were not. There was simply no time left to revisit the plans.
You can view the planning drawings on-line at the Council's website. Check out the first floor OPD plan with a large column directly in front of the doors to a consulting/exam room but INSIDE the room. Or how about the Plastics Dressing Unit with only one way in or out and no second means of escape. Scottish architecture at its best ??? Our layout never claimed to be "ideal" but simply avoided making such fundamental design errors.
Nairn's Bairn
#12 Posted by Nairn's Bairn on 2 Aug 2019 at 13:58 PM
#11 I think the gist of a lot of the comments above, including my own, was not whether the design could have been improved with more time spent on it (as is very often the case, particularly where project managers and tight timescales are involved), but your public approach. I have no doubt your concerns are valid - we all have similar stories to tell, yet generally manage to avoid writing to newspapers about it.

In contacting the press and using phrases like
“I told the lead architect three times we needed at least one lift that’s bigger but it was never incorporated” and “The architect refused to change it despite my instruction to do so. I was overruled from above on the grounds that I was adding delay”
you have taken a purposefully inflammatory approach, and one that is derogatory to those involved in the project (who one assumes are trying their best within the framework).

Even if your intentions are genuinely noble, it unfortunately comes across as splenetic stirring. I would be genuinely interested to know what good you expect to come of this approach?
Robert Knox
#13 Posted by Robert Knox on 2 Aug 2019 at 21:42 PM
I really wish they'd leave the poor guy alone.

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