How Better Design Improved Sexual Health in London

Those of us that are sexually active and somewhat responsible have all shared a common experience – the sterile clinic waiting room sprinkled with fading posters full of prevention messages and health tips. There’s usually a TV displaying a movie or daytime talk shows to drown out the collective nervous energy of the patrons waiting for lab results or to see the doctor. It’s safe to say clinics are not exactly a relaxing place to pass the time.

Those of us that are tired of waiting around in uninviting clinics can look forward to a revised aesthetic featured in DesignWeek. Urban Salon, a London-based architectural and design studio, is reinventing the sexual health clinic environment by “creating a welcoming sexual health clinic with excellent facilities for visitors and staff” at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Trust clinic in London.

Former rail arches in Burrell Street, SE1, are being refurbished to house the clinic, which will be designed to appeal to 16-25 year olds. [Urban Salon was] encouraged to ‘push the Trust’ to accept a look and feel which is very different from a standardised hospital environment […] The design comprises teaching rooms and auditoriums on an upper mezzanine with clinical rooms on the ground floor.

Artists Allison Dring and Arnold Gordon have been commissioned to work on the space […] Berlin-based illustrator Dring will design a piece for a ceiling space above a treatment area so patients can look up when they are being treated. Goron has been engaged to make a mobile structure which hangs in the front of one of the arched spaces.

This innovative approach to design came about as a solution to the clinic’s local boroughs experiencing some of the highest rates of unintended pregnancy and STDs in London and the UK. The clinic wanted to enlist a design firm that had not previously worked in healthcare and believed creating a friendly and welcoming environment that was far removed in look and feel from the standard, sterile hospital environment would help reduce the high instances of pregnancy and STDs.

urban salon design

In the health field, we often overlook just how important the medical environment can be for patients. People generally don’t like frequenting places that make them feel uncomfortable, so obviously the health implications for something like this could be huge. In addition to making the venue more inviting, health professionals agree on the profound effect environment has on the healing and healthy behaviors of patients. Making the process of testing and treatment more appealing to patients is an important step towards normalizing STD testing and preventing unplanned pregnancy in areas that have seen drastic increases in recent years.

We’ve seen similar design endeavors from San Francisco’s Magnet, a clinic that creates an inviting community space, similar to an art gallery, where gay men can hang out and socialize while seeking sexual health services. Magnet also offers massages acupuncture, mental health, primary care, alternative therapy and more as part of a holistic approach to STD and HIV testing in a re imagined storefront in the Castro district.

Magnet SF

Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Trust clinic is special because it’s being conceptualized from the ground up with health outcomes driving the architectural design. Depending on the cost and sustainability we would love to see something like this devised for sexual health clinics that serve urban and rural youth in the United States. The new clinic is due for completion in Autumn 2012, so we’ll be sure to check-in on the construction and report back.

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