The Falkirk Ward was designed by the Department of Health for Scotland in the 1960s. It was an experimental ward, a prototype to be tested for its efficiency and flexibility. If successful, it was to be rolled out in the new district general hospitals planned to be built across Scotland as promised by the Hospital Plan of 1962. In the 1990s it was selected by DoCoMoMo as one of Scotland’s key 20th Century Modern architectural monuments. It was one of 60 post-war buildings which were deemed to be of particular significance in terms of their design or style.
The ward block was erected at the existing Falkirk and District Royal Infirmary. The Infirmary had been built in 1926-31 to replace an older cottage hospital and was officially opened by Prince George, later Duke of Kent, in January 1932. It had been designed in a sparse Neo‑Georgian style by the local architect, W. J. Gibson, with advice from Dr D. J. Mackintosh, Medical Superintendent of Glasgow’s Western Infirmary. Mackintosh was an inveterate giver of advice to hospital boards of management, and author of Construction Equipment and Management of a General Hospital published in 1916. The architect, William Gibson, had a family connection with the infirmary as his mother, Harriette Hicks Gibson, had been the main force behind the foundation of the original cottage hospital. His father, John Edward Gibson, was managing partner of the Camelon Ironworks in Falkirk.
Funds were raised to add a nurses’ home in the late 1930s and a competition held for the design, limited to architects practising in Scotland. First prize went to the firm of Rowand Anderson, Paul & Partners, Stuart R. Matthew came second and a local firm, T. M. Copland & Blakey were placed third by the assessor, C. G. Soutar. [AJ, 22 Dec 1938, p.1013.] The outbreak of the Second World War resulted in the plans being postponed and eventually abandoned, instead nine Emergency Medical Scheme huts were built on the site (a further two were added later).
Falkirk Infirmary was one of eleven institutions in Scotland selected by the Department of Health for hutted annexes to provide for the anticipated air-raid casualties. The eleven sites comprised four local authority hospitals (Robroyston, and Mearnskirk, in Glasgow; Hairmyres, Lanarkshire; and Ashludie, Dundee) four voluntary hospitals (Astley Ainslie, Edinburgh; Victoria Infirmary Auxiliary Hospital, Busby, Glasgow; Falkirk Royal Infirmary; and Stirling Royal Infirmary), and three mental hospitals (Gartloch, Glasgow; Bangour, Edinburgh; and Larbert). The huts, measuring around 144ft by 24ft, were each to contain 36 beds, and were to be built and maintained by the Office of Works. [The Lancet, 22 April 1939, p.943.]
The executive architects of the Falkirk Ward who worked in conjunction with the Scottish Home and Health Department and Western Regional Hospital Board were Keppie Henderson and Partners. The design was drawn up by the Hospital Planning Group of the Scottish Home and Health Department, comprising two architects – John Ogilvie and Mr Bruce, Dr Hunter and Miss McNaught on the medical and work-study side, Mr Rendle for administrative expertise, and Mr. Wotherspoon, engineer. Plans were finalised in October 1962 and work began in the following year. The new unit was officially opened by Bruce Millan M.P., Under Secretary of State for Scotland, on 4 November 1966, although one of the wards was brought into use towards the end of 1965. Patients were moved into it from two overcrowded wards in the old hospital. One of the consultant surgeons, Mr R. G. Main, noted that the old hospital’s surgical unit (which the new block replaced) had 65 beds consisting of one male ward and one female ward, but they sometimes added in as many as ten extra beds in the middle of each ward in order to cope with the waiting list. He recalled how ‘A ward round could be likened to a stroll through Glasgow Central Station on Fair Saturday!’ [SHHD, Hospital Design in Use 4 The Falkirk Ward, Edinburgh, HMSO 1969, p.39.]
The Falkirk ward was developed in order to provide greater ‘privacy, amenity and better facilities for caring for patients and so set standards for National Health Service hospitals which might be generally acceptable for many years to come’. [The Hospital, Feb 1968, p.65.] It was an experiment in design incorporating several features which were being contemplated or proposed for new hospitals but had not yet been tried out in Britain. It was a complete departure from the standard Nightingale ward, and involved a move towards much smaller ward units. It was not considered viable to provide only single and double rooms which were by then current in American hospitals. This would have created too many operational and staffing difficulties and greatly increased the running costs. For these reasons a combination of four‑bed wards and single rooms was selected, with a ward floor of 60 beds, including twelve for intensive care.
In addition to the experimental ward block, a two-storey service building was constructed as part of a general scheme of reconstruction at the infirmary. This addition provided kitchen, staff dining-room, pharmacy and central stores, and was also completed in 1965. In that year work began to design a new out-patients’ department. This, too, was designed by members of the Hospital Planning Committee of the Scottish Home and Health Department. The team in this instance comprised one of the few female architects employed by the NHS in Scotland in the 1960s, M. Justin Blanco White, Dr Hunter and Miss McNaught were the medical advisers and Mr Rendle the administrative adviser.
The new out-patients’ department was intended to be a demonstration building embodying the principles behind the Department’s Planning Note (the guidelines which were to be followed throughout the country for new out-patient departments). It was part of the wider strategy of devising standard hospital departments. In the mid-1960s the Department thought that the advantages of standardisation of departments would be increased if a standardised system of building and the use of common structural components were adopted. The model plan of the Falkirk out-patients’ department was also designed to illustrate the recommendations for A&E departments, especially regarding standard rooms for both diagnosis and treatment of either new or returning patients ‘walking, in wheel chairs or on a trolley’. They were also trialling a short-stay ward and operating theatre shared between out-patients and A&E.
Design work on the out-patients’ department continued through 1966-9. In 1969, with the plans nearing completion, work began to clear the site for the new department. Construction began in 1970, and the department was completed in 1972, having cost £881,000. It was equipped and furnished ready for use the following year.
With the reorganisation of the National Health Service in 1974, the running of Falkirk and District Royal Infirmary passed from the Western Regional Hospitals Board to the newly established Forth Valley Health Board. One of the first schemes undertaken by the new Health Board was the upgrading of the war-time hospital huts, completed in 1976.
The next major development took place in the 1980s with the addition of the Windsor Unit. This project was approved in 1979 and was intended to provide 176 maternity and geriatric beds. Work began in April 1984, on the scheme estimated to cost £8.7m and was scheduled for completion in 1986. The three storey block was very much of its time, the design made effective use of contrasting colours and materials, with the rich brown brick threaded with orange-red brick stripes. Despite being of relatively recent date, the unit had been decommissioned by October 2010, after the opening of Forth Valley Hospital, and was subsequently demolished.