Obituary: Howard Goodman

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HOWARD GOODMAN'S work as Chief Architect, 1971-78, and later Director of Health Building, of the Department of Health, brought real benefit to the lives of millions of patients treated in NHS hospitals. The path of his career was liberally posted with milestone events in the development of health building in Britain.

His career began in 1944 when, at the age of 16, he was articled to a small architectural practice in the West of England. Joining the NHS in Bristol in 1947, in its very early days and before any notion existed of large-scale national hospital-building programmes, Goodman worked throughout the region on a range of relatively small jobs aimed at improving or patching up the disparate NHS estate.

This grounding stood him in good stead in the 1950s when he took his talents to a succession of leading private practices (Watkins, Gray, 1954, Howard and Fairbairn, 1956, and Powell and Moyn, 1958). These settings brought the opportunity of working on large hospital projects, such as Wythenshawe and Wexham Park.

In 1960 Goodman joined the newly formed Hospital Design Unit at the then Ministry of Health, under the Chief Architect William Tatton Brown. The unit was a key resource as central government and the NHS sought to give reality to Enoch Powell's vision of a modern hospital estate, set out in The Hospital Plan (1961). Work on a number of projects and studies was carried out, but in 1962 Goodman was asked to lead the team which was to give a new direction to hospital building in the UK, and which had great influence world-wide. The idea was radical and involved the pursuit of new forms of flexibility in hospital design, leading to buildings which were low-rise yet compact, with engineering services contained within their own "floors between floors". Delivery of the idea followed and a 770-bed hospital was built on a heavily restricted site at Greenwich.

The demands of a national hospital-building programme were many. Economy of planning effort and economy of running costs were but two of these, which led Goodman and his colleagues to build on the experience of Greenwich and embark on ambitious and highly imaginative programmes of standardised planning and design. The Best-Buy hospitals ("Two for the price of one") were followed by the innovative, but in the final analysis too expensive, Harness programme. A further hard press on the economy pedal from the Treasury brought the response of Nucleus hospitals, which were widely adopted in a variety of forms.

Goodman's work at the Health Department was not restricted to the high profile of the acute hospital. He led work developing new building forms for the delivery of what were often "Cinderella" services, such as those for the mentally ill, where he maintained the strongest of personal commitments. Throughout his central government career he gave inspirational leadership, which was reflected in extraordinary levels of loyalty from his staff.

His appointment to the senior post of Chief Architect in 1971 brought both recognition and responsibility. It also showed the contrasts which existed in Goodman - the senior civil servant, but someone who was often impatient with the requirements of the systems and controls of central government. He could not be always delicate in his responses to perceived obstacles and so he inevitably crossed swords with his seniors in the Department of Health. But he took any reproofs in good part and used every opportunity of making clear his proud claim to being the only Grade 3 civil servant to have received personal and formal "bollockings" (his own words) from three separate Permanent Secretaries.

The efforts of the department to bring Goodman and his lieutenants under full control were usually returned with interest added. One newly promoted civil servant sent from the Elephant to Goodman's base in Euston Tower with this brief, reading the correspondence page of the Architects' Journal one day, saw with considerable dismay a letter from Goodman asking why the Secretary of State was forever "slagging off" his own department's architects. It was only further study of the letter that told him that Goodman had taken the precaution of having his son sign the letter, and that an unwelcome confrontation could therefore be avoided.

Retirement from the department in 1988 led to no let-up in Goodman's activities - they just got wider. He became a partner in MPA Health Strategy and Planning, a Labour Councillor in Reigate, and a much-valued member of East Surrey Community Health Council. His voluntary work in support of mental health groups continued throughout all this.

Until his final illness became apparent a year ago, his appetite for work remained unabated and his breadth of vision remained. Still the man of contrast could be seen. Who else could spend the morning developing and promoting a plan for a new countrywide pattern of acute hospitals, then take the Tube to Newham in the afternoon and work on plans for a one-stop shop for Community Health and Social Services?

Howard Goodman had clear principles and stayed true to them. He had a strong preference for incorporating good company into his pattern of work and his many friends will miss him.

Robert Howard Goodman, architect: born 29 March 1928; Assistant Architect, South West Regional Hospital Board 1949-54; architect in private practice 1954-60; Main Grade Architect, Ministry of Health (later Department of Health) 1960-61, Senior Grade Architect 1961-63, Principal Architect 1963- 66, Assistant Chief Architect 1966-71, Chief Architect 1971-78, Director of Development 1978-85, Director of Health Building 1986-88; Partner, MPA Health Planners 1988-99; twice married (two sons); died Caterham, Surrey 22 April 1999.