John Weeks

Proponent of flexible hospital design
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The Independent Online

John Weeks brought an intellectual rigour to the design of hospitals, an exercise that brought together prefabrication, repetition and town planning to create miniature cities – indeed all of his experience as an architect and founder partner of the firm Llewelyn Davies and Weeks.

Weeks determined to become an architect at 14. His grandfather was a mason, and he had a copy of Architectural Review from October 1933, featuring the Royal Masonic Hospital. It is still in Weeks's office. After education at Dulwich College he entered the Architectural Association in 1938. Military service interrupted his training, with three years in the Royal Navy, but the early years of the Second World War were a wonderful time for the AA. The small but exceptionally gifted group of students were evacuated to Monken Hadley, north of London, where Weeks shared a house with, amongst others, Philip and Geoffry Powell, Hidalgo and Jeannie Moya, all architects who were to have distinguished careers rebuilding Britain after the war. Its real name was the Homewood, but Weeks and others christened it "Taliesin" after Frank Lloyd Wright's home.

Reading the Architectural Review, Weeks particularly admired a house at Ferriby, in Yorkshire, by Leslie Martin. On demobilisation he phoned Martin, then Deputy Architect to the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, for a job – and Martin was sufficiently intrigued to offer one. The LMS was the largest of the pre-nationalisation railway companies and had initiated a coherent design policy in the war, including prefabricated steel stations for its smaller halts. The prototype still stands at West Hampstead; the others, including Stonebridge Park designed by Weeks, have gone.

For Weeks the 1940s were "all thinking science and rationalisation", which suited his talents, and the commuting introduced him to another architect, Richard Llewelyn Davies, later Lord Llewelyn-Davies. They left British Rail together to work on modular design for Hills, the principal manufacturer of prefabricated schools, seen in the 1940s as the answer to shortages. Then, in 1950, Weeks followed Llewelyn Davies to the Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust, which was assembling a multi-disciplinary team including architects, statisticians and a nurse, to design a general hospital from first principles.

As part of their study the Nuffield team designed two experimental ward units, a twin operating theatre suite and a health centre at Corby. Partly because of their design – they were cool, geometrically disciplined buildings – but, mainly because they were based on well-researched regimes, the buildings received wide acceptance by the medical and nursing professions. Their report, published in 1955, became the reference point for the first larger building programmes of the NHS, notably hospitals by Powell and Moya at Swindon and Wexham Park. Llewelyn Davies and Weeks acted as consultants, having formed a partnership in 1960. Meanwhile Weeks had designed a new estate village for Lord Rothschild at Rushbrooke, Suffolk, based on primitive farm buildings seen on Italian holidays: a cluster of single-storey brick houses linked by sheltering walls and with attic storage areas under big monopitched roofs. The black and white shapes were likened to the Friesians in the adjoining field.

Finally, Weeks built his own hospital, at Northwick Park, Harrow, combined with a clinical research centre. He devised the overall form of the hospital in a week in April 1962 while in bed with flu. He had been rationalising his thoughts on hospital design as "duffel-coat" planning, a large, architecturally expressionless mantle of a building that was serviced and flexible. But in January 1962 this evolved into "indeterminate architecture". Provided that the design of the entrance and principal routes was clear and logical, and each building could readily expand its services, then any adaptation, extension or rebuilding could be undertaken without disturbing the rest.

It was a model for flexibility within a logical plan. Hospital planning resembled that for a town, and Weeks was also involved with the planning of Washington New Town, whose importance as a forbear of Milton Keynes is undervalued. Weeks devised the roads at Washington as all equal, with neighbourhoods for some 4,500 people set in the half-mile squares between them.

Weeks was involved in the design of York District Hospital, but increasingly his expertise was in demand as an adviser abroad. He worked extensively in Iceland, Belgium, Australia, Singapore, the United States and Canada, producing development plans as the basis of buildings by local architects. He recorded 20 long-haul trips in 1969 alone. His intensive research produced few built works, but his hand can be seen in the University Children's Hospital at Leuven (1972-75), the Medical Centre at Flinders University, Adelaide (1974), and Westmead Hospital, Sydney (1975-77). Weeks had taught at the Bartlett School of Architecture throughout the 1960s and, following Llewelyn Davies's death in 1981, he carried on lecturing on hospitals around the world.

John Weeks combined his scientific approach to architecture with a love of art and music, relating his work on indeterminacy to that of John Cage and Merce Cunningham's ballet. He worked extensively with artists, particularly with Kenneth and Mary Martin, notably in 1956 at the "This is Tomorrow" exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery and with Mary at the Musgrave Park Hospital, Belfast. He was a graceful, twinkly figure with a gentle, warm humour, who was still corresponding with students and giving lectures until last year.

Elain Harwood