Finsbury Health Centre

Updated Monday 26th November 2001

"Nothing is too good for the working classes" - hence the luxurious design of Finsbury Health Centre.

Finsbury Health Centre Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: josephy beuys hat under CC-BY-NC-ND licence

Construction Date:
1938

Location:
Finsbury, London

The People's Republic of Finsbury

Finsbury was, and remains, one of London's poorest boroughs. In the 1930s lice, rickets, and diphtheria were common and most residents suffered from poor housing and atrocious, vitamin-deficient diets. In Britain as a whole, 2,000 people per year died of whooping cough and tuberculosis killed 30,000 annually.

The local council, one of the most left-wing in Britain, set about tackling the problems with the ambitious 'Finsbury Plan'. The idea was to build a comprehensive health centre amid public baths, libraries and nurseries. In the end, only the health centre was built.

Nonetheless, Finsbury represents an important moment in the story of British Modernism. For the first time, an avowedly modernist architect (the Russian émigré Berthold Lubetkin), had been awarded a municipal commission (the 1935 De La Warr Pavilion was the result of a competition).

Nothing Is Too Good For The Ordinary People

The Centre incorporated a TB clinic, a foot clinic, a dental surgery, and a solarium. The basement had facilities for cleaning and disinfecting bedclothes, and a lecture theatre and mortuary were also included. Lubetkin wanted people to feel welcome but never patronised. He also wanted the Centre to be like a club, or a drop-in centre.

It was important that people not feel they were walking into just another bureaucratic staging post. To this end, the reception desk was left out of the original plans, (but was added later), and furniture in the foyer was deliberately not arranged into traditional waiting room rows. People had to feel they could drop in at any time and see clinicians in a relaxed, unthreatening atmosphere.

Lubetkin also wanted the centre to persuade people to live healthier lives, as well as treat their ailments. Murals on the walls encouraged patients to get some fresh air. The glass bricks of the front wall were a conscious attempt to "propagandise" the physical benefits of a light, airy environment. The solarium allowed the children of Finsbury (who spent much of their early lives enveloped in a thick smog), a chance to feel the benefits of sunlight. Of this revolutionary new approach to public health, Lubetkin famously commented "Nothing is too good for ordinary people".

Your Britain - Fight For It Now

The interior of the Centre was bright-coloured in reds and azures which were designed to contrast with the gloom of the surrounding slums, and the expanse of glass walls on each of the wings would sparkle on sunny days - "as beautiful as the hair of a beautiful young girl in the summer sunshine", according to Lubetkin. Finsbury shows that Modernist buildings do not have to be sombre. Lubetkin saw his Health Centre as a multicoloured beacon in the heart of the smoky city.

The Centre was also designed to be a flexible building: in itself a progressive concept in a British building of the 1930s. Lubetkin foresaw that in years to come the changing technology of healthcare would require buildings which could be easily adapted to the new needs of clinicians. The building's services - its plumbing, wiring, and piping, were all designed with adaptability in mind.

The political significance of the Centre was not lost on Winston Churchill. In 1943 he suppressed an Army Bureau poster designed by Abram Games which superimposed the shining centre onto a picture of starving children standing in a slum. Next to the Centre were the words; "Your Britain -- Fight for it Now". In 1945, Churchill would lose the General Election and the era of the welfare state, central planning, and the National Health Service, would begin.

The marriage of modernist architecture and socialist reforming zeal, first seen at Finsbury, was about to take centre-stage.

 

Architect:
Berthold Lubetkin, (Russia)

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Water and human health Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 1 icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Water and human health

Water is a natural resource that is vital for human survival and health, although only a tiny fraction of the Earth's supply is available to humans and terrestrial animals. In this free course, Water and human health, we look at threats, such as pollution, to water's capacity to support life around the world.

Free course
9 hrs
Work and mental health Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: iStock free course icon Level 2 icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Work and mental health

Although being at work during periods of mental illness can be difficult for those with mental health problems, most people with these difficulties could take paid employment if it were not for numerous barriers in the workplace and the wider community (Centre for Mental Health, 2013). In this free course, Work and mental health, you will look at some of the ways in which employment affects mental health and what can be done to support people in finding and keeping work.

Free course
5 hrs
OpenLearn Live: 15th December 2016 Creative commons image Icon Praxis Loewengasse under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

OpenLearn Live: 15th December 2016

A lighthouse which helped people steer their way through health crises. Then learning and research through the day.

Article
Climate change’s costs are still escalating Creative commons image Icon Yeoh Thean Kheng - Flickr under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license article icon

Nature & Environment 

Climate change’s costs are still escalating

Scientific reports released for a conference today on disaster risk reduction warn that people are already dying and economies being hit by climate change − and that the dangers are growing.

Article
Where do we get the help that really counts? Creative commons image Icon Tanya Cataldo under CC-BY-2.0 licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Where do we get the help that really counts?

When only one third of people with mental health symptoms access formal channels of support due to funding problems or stigma, is informal support from family and friends just as good? 

Article
Green care: contact with nature can improve mental health article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Green care: contact with nature can improve mental health

Can being outside gardening improve our wellbeing? Discover three factors that account for the positive effects of 'green care'.

Article

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Active, healthy lifestyles

In this free course, Active, healthy lifestyles, which is aimed at teachers of Physical Education, we begin by looking at some of the common misconceptions relating to fitness and activity levels together with accepted definitions of these concepts. We consider how active young people should actually be, and discuss how PE teachers can ensure they are making an effective contribution to this area of public health.

Free course
10 hrs
Young people’s wellbeing Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 3 icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Young people’s wellbeing

What do we mean by 'wellbeing' for young people? How is it shaped by social differences and inequalities, and how can we improve young people's mental and physical health? This free course, Young people's wellbeing, will examine the range of factors affecting young people's wellbeing, such as obesity, binge drinking, depression and behavioural problems.

Free course
16 hrs
Charlie Sheen, Rock Hudson and the changing face of HIV stigma Creative commons image Icon By Joella Marano (Charlie Sheen) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons under Creative-Commons license article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Charlie Sheen, Rock Hudson and the changing face of HIV stigma

How has the treatment and attitudes towards HIV changed between 1985 and 2015? Peter Keogh explores...

Article