Camden Council has made a resolution to grant planning permission for a new facility that will bring patient-centred eye care, cutting-edge research and exemplary education all under one roof in the heart of the Knowledge Quarter, an internationally renowned hub for science and innovation in London. An AECOM-led team, with Penoyre & Prasad as lead architects and White Arkitekter responsible for interiors and external landscape, is designing Oriel, which is a joint initiative between Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (Moorfields), UCL Institute of Ophthalmology (IoO) and Moorfields Eye Charity.

AECOM is leading the design team, acting as lead designer and also providing civil, structural and building services engineering, as well as sustainability and other specialist consultancy services. Award-winning architectural practice Penoyre & Prasad, a studio of Perkins&Will London, is the lead architect and White Arkitekter is responsible for designing all interiors and external landscapes. Under a separate contract, AECOM is providing project management services for Moorfields Eye Hospital and the UCL IoO to deliver the scheme.

Following the planning committee on 30th June 2021 and subject to approval by the Greater London Authority and conditions being met, Moorfields and the UCL IoO will be able to relocate from their current buildings on City Road, Islington, to the St Pancras Hospital site, in Camden.

This is a significant milestone for the project, which the partners have been working on together since 2013. Engagement on the new centre is ongoing, with a series of events taking place throughout the summer to involve staff, patients and partner organisations in the design of the building’s interior. 

Rafael Marks, Penoyre & Prasad said: “This building is a radical way of combining treatment, research and education seamlessly under one roof and offers and adaptable blueprint of how we could be designing sustainable environments of healthcare and life sciences. We are excited by the Council’s resolution to grant consent which will help the Oriel partnership to move closer to its mission of providing the world’s best quality care for sight and speed-up discoveries for groundbreaking eye treatment.”

Penoyre & Prasad’s design reflects the collaborative nature of the Oriel partnership. At the heart of the building is an atrium – a new public room for the city and a place of integration between the multiple elements within the facility. Wrapping around this atrium are two enveloping wings containing all the departments that make up Oriel. Two entrances lead into the atrium, with finishes, landscaping and a glazed roof reinforcing a sense of connection to the outside world and the public realm.

Rising up through the centre of the atrium is a tower-like structure containing the main public circulation and access to the different departments. Aptly named the oriel, this tower is the spatial embodiment of the partnership’s mission. As discovery is accelerated by highly collaborative and convergent teams, these levels and bridges provide informal waiting, meeting, workspaces and incidental ‘water cooler’ moments between the multiple building users, as well as the building’s central vertical circulation.

Designed as an ‘adaptive building’, Oriel is a flexible rig to accommodate a diverse range of activities that can flex and change over time. This approach is a critical element to designing future-proof research spaces, especially within the life sciences field. The design of the building has been centred on the people who use and visit the building, aiming to create the best possible patient experience.  This has meant addressing the needs of all those with visual impairment and other neurodiverse and physical needs. As such, it has been designed to ensure a truly inclusive and responsive environment appropriate for all Moorfields’ patients, staff, and visitors. White Arkitekter has developed the interiors and the external landscapes. Colours and materials inspired by natural landscapes, well considered lighting, tempered acoustics and sensitive wayfinding will aim to promote and enhance the health and wellbeing of patients, staff, and visitors alike.

Dale Sinclair, Director of Innovation, AECOM, said: “Camden Council’s resolution to grant planning approval is a significant step towards delivery for this world-leading facility that will help shape the future of eye care, research and education. With its environmental credentials, including the ability of the building to adapt in the future in response to its circular economy approach, Oriel has the potential to set a precedent that will help guide the development of many future buildings in London and beyond. The team has worked collaboratively to reach this important milestone, developing low carbon solutions for this state-of-the-art facility.”

Caroline Varnauskas, Lead Architect at White Arkitekter, said: “Oriel is set to transform how we provide the best levels of care for patients in the UK by strengthening collaboration between healthcare and academia. Drawing on White’s significant research into healing environments, light and materiality, our evidence-based design supports recovery, while shaping a high-performance workplace for staff. From the beautiful atrium that welcomes all and the abundantly landscaped roof terrace that offers staff sweeping views across London, to the detailing, wayfinding and interiors that enhance the human experience – this is a place that has been designed with care throughout.”

Oriel is part of a wider masterplan for the five-acre St Pancras Hospital site with plans being brought forward separately by King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership (KCCLP) for mixed-use development on the remaining three acres of land.

The Treasury, the Department for Health and Social Care and NHS England / NHS Improvement have given the proposals the green light, which means that detailed work on designing the new centre can build momentum.

Health Minister Edward Argar said: “The Oriel eye centre will enable London to deliver world-leading patient care and scientific research under the same roof, as part of the biggest hospital infrastructure programme in a generation to build back better. The grant of planning approval is an important next step, and I look forward to working with the trust deliver this centre.

“We are backing our NHS and will be building a total of 48 hospitals by 2030, backed by an initial £3.7 billion.”

David Probert, chief executive of Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “This is truly a significant milestone for Oriel and the future of patient-centred eye care. The new eye health centre will be a world first and has been designed to accommodate the greatest integration between research and patient care.”

“Collaboration is key to this project and we are looking forward to continuing to work closely with our staff, patients and partners so that we build a new centre that is not only fit-for-purpose, but a beacon of excellence for patient-focused eye care.”

Professor Alan Thompson, Dean of the UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences, said: “World-class research, innovation and education merit a first-rate facility. Our new location in the heart of Camden’s Knowledge Quarter will maximise opportunities for collaborative working and bring us closer to colleagues in other UCL schools and faculties.”

“With common eye conditions expected to rise rapidly over the next 15 years, we need to plan for the future. Oriel promises to deliver a more collaborative working environment that will support our translational ‘bench to bedside’ research through the co-development of research and early involvement of clinicians and patients.”

Robert Dufton, Chief Executive at Moorfields Eye Charity, said: “It is an extremely exciting time for the partners in developing this new centre which will enable world-leading clinical care, research and education in eye health. Philanthropy is key to helping us make this global centre for advancing eye health a reality.

“We are delighted with the support we’ve received to date from donors and look forward to new and continuing conversations with others interested in helping us realising our vision.”