Dean Street Express, London, by Penson

An exemplar for future NHS walk-in clinics has been established in Soho by Penson, using the historic location as an inspiration for its engaging interiors


Client: NHS Dean Street

Architect: Penson

Duration: Six months

Cost: Government funded

Words by Emily Martin

A walk-in, self-service, sexual health clinic with a design inspired by the aesthetics and themes of the local area, Dean Street Express is not what you might expect from a NHS facility. 'The brief was to create a fast-track, self-service sexual health service within a clinic that didn't look like a clinic at all,' explains Lee Penson, CEO of Penson. And with an iPad registration system, an automated testing process to fast track the screening process, and results via a pneumatic vacuum system, the clinic aspect of the scheme is almost unrecognisable.

Bright-red walls, clustered lighting and neon signage says ‘Soho’, not ‘NHS’
Bright-red walls, clustered lighting and neon signage says 'Soho', not 'NHS'.

'We swapped the drab grey of normal hospitals for the brightest colour we could find, we filled the corridors with reflective surfaces to create a feeling of space as opposed to a feeling of stuffiness, and we took inspiration from the local area to make the clinic more personal,' says Penson. The four screening rooms each has a different design inspired by Soho's various unique shop fronts, store decors and neon signs - as seen in the reception - making it an official member of the Soho district.

The largely monochrome waiting room with splashes of red features cinema style seating and decorated surfaces.
The largely monochrome waiting room with splashes of red features cinema style seating and decorated surfaces.

Creating an anonymous space is aimed at encouraging more individuals to attend for sexual health checks, but service convenience within the clinic's in-house lab (where the technicians can be seen at work through a large window in the reception space) includes an on-site machine that enables test results to be back with patients within six hours.

iPads are used for self-registration.
iPads are used for self-registration.

'The pneumatic vacuum system is one of the most unusual things we've ever put together,' explains Penson. 'It felt like we were designing something for the deck of the Star Ship Enterprise! The futuristic element of it has been very exciting, from the design stage all the way through to seeing the functioning end-product.'

A screening room.
A screening room.

But as Penson explains the project wasn't without its challenges, and while working with a restricted budget the practice had to deliver the project with a state-of-the-art appeal: 'Working to a shrewd budget and still delivering a space that makes a statement is one of our specialties. But by working out a low-cost plan from the beginning meant that, at the end, we were able to unveil one of the most radical clinics the NHS has ever seen.'

Soho shop features inspired the décor.
Soho shop features inspired the décor.

At the bottom of a winding staircase the waiting room features space-saving cinema seats and the adjoining consultant rooms are decorated with vintage film posters, referencing Soho's theatrical history. But whether for Soho resident or visitor, the clinic's open-door policy means its use by anyone who needs a sexual health check, and it has been specifically designed as a walk-in centre to accommodate them.

'No appointment is necessary and it's open to all members of the public regardless of age, sexual orientation or whether they're a resident of the area or not,' says Penson. 'This project has revolutionised the way sexual-health clinics deal with their practice. This project is the opposite of a hospital, both in aesthetics and in atmosphere, and acts as an example of how NHS buildings don't need to be as corporate and drab as people have come to expect.'

Main suppliers

Furniture: Arper, Vitra, Moroso, Poltrona Frau Group ,Sancal

Signage: Castleton Signs

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