Perhaps the greatest contribution made by the industrial town was the reaction it produced against its own greatest misdemeanours; and, to begin with, the art of sanitation or public hygiene. The original models for these evils were the pest-ridden prisons and hospitals of the eighteenth century: their improvement made them pilot plants, as it were, in the reform of the industrial town.
Lewis Mumford, 1961
An association between clinical and civic design has long been suspected — and indeed occasionally explicitly invoked — by commentators on architecture and urban design. Certainly, Mumford is not the only historian to have proposed a symbiotic relationship between hospital and town planning over the last two centuries or more. Yet the twentieth century has surely witnessed an intensification of this relationship, an intensification which points to a definite qualitative — if not even quantitative — shift. This article seeks to reconsider this relationship as it manifested itself in Britain after the Second World War, to investigate the similarities and points of contact between what are often considered by their practitioners to be two quite distinct discourses. It aims to do so through a consideration of a single major project, one which clearly exhibited characteristics of debates which manifested themselves in a more diluted form across numerous other schemes. This building, Greenwich District Hospital (1962–74), was one of two ‘heroic’ hospital projects undertaken in Britain during the 1960s and evidences a plethora of concerns prevalent at the time. Whilst flexibility was a fundamental desideratum, a consideration of the project’s zoning of functions and circulatory logic also reveals a profound affinity with the concerns of modernist urbanism. Moreover, it was not simply a case of hospital design plundering town-planning models for its own use; British urban theory may itself have owed a debt to clinical planning, each discourse involved in processes of specialization, separation and sanitization indicative of capitalism’s need to order and render controllable the phenomena of everyday life. Furthermore, this equivalence of architectural intervention at the level of both the hospital and the city plan raises important questions about modern society’s conception of safety, health and the environment.