In Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, small architecture practice Twohill and James has created a strong identity for this medical practice, defined by colour, artwork and custom joinery.
Holdsworth House Medical Practice, first established in Darlinghurst, Sydney, has recently extended its health services to Brisbane. Local architects David Twohill and Emma James, of practice Twohill and James, have translated the progressive approach of the medical practice’s directors, Dr Mark Bloch and Dr Dick Quan, through a refurbishment of an existing commercial premises in Fortitude Valley. The project is a physical manifestation of a corporate ethos based on delivering exceptional care with design objectives focused on celebrating the “small moments.”
The reception and waiting area, positioned at the heart of the practice, is a place of calm and respite. Florescent light has been replaced by the warm candescence emanating from the soft curves of a bespoke ceiling “veil.” This element is both the visual centrepiece of the practice and the means by which daytime glare is tempered and luminance manipulated. The curvaceous form provides volume and depth, with the changing mood of the sun and the warm glow of concealed lighting captured within its shapely folds.
Joinery elements comprising a reception desk, waiting lounge, shelves and window box ground the willowy ceiling. Custom-made and off-the-shelf timber elements combine with Twohill and James’ trademark mix of elegance and fun. “Fat and chunky” chair legs satisfy a brief for robustness and are a counterpoint to the fine, tapered furniture legs found elsewhere. Chair arms are smooth and curved in keeping with the circular geometries of the ceiling. Victorian ash, white oak, American oak and walnut timbers are used with contrasting effect to further emphasize arch and circle motifs.
With walls and ceilings reserved for artwork and light play, corporate colour is represented in the carpet flooring. Elsewhere, restraint and propriety is reinforced through a palette of timber, brass and neutral paintwork. A datum line, struck by the subtle change in colour from white to “piano,” maintains visual order throughout. Artworks by Sydney artist Michael Muir and Queenslander Monica Rohan (curated by Jan Murphy Gallery) replace the typically brochure -laden public spaces, bringing a bright focus to walls and hinting at the cultural interests of Bloch and Quan.
In the consultation rooms, space is at a premium so seats, desks, cupboards, shelving and patient beds have all been custom designed. Despite rigorous planning constraints, beauty is celebrated in the dutiful pairing of seat with window and in the use of skylights to deliver natural light. Such details ensure that the patient’s experience from the front door to the consultation room is convivial. This kind of hospitality is rarely associated with a medical facility.
The unconventional facade comprises panels of steel, mirrored glass and stone, which are designed to hang like works of art. The mirrored glass delivers light to the interior while reflecting the changing street and sky. A discreet fracture made in the highest panel amplifies this animation. The rich strains of magenta onyx create jewel-like accents to the building face while giving a subtle nod to the corporate colour. The exterior presents a contemporary identity for the medical practice while maintaining privacy for the clientele and a sense of intrigue for the passer-by.
The success of this project hinges on two things: the skill of the architects and the trust of the medical practice directors in embracing original design ideas. The fact that the directors are patrons of the arts encouraged much of the architectural expression and provided the platform for design exploration. The smart moves made here to capture and modulate natural light and to “celebrate” the ceiling, the seat and the window are remedial and whole-heartedly uplifting.