To launch its first London reproductive and sexual health center that’s open seven days a week, England’s National Health Service (NHS) engaged designers and architects from outside the healthcare specialty in a competition to create a new space for its Burrell Street Clinic (London).

The challenge: to transform two railway arches into a welcoming clinic that looks and feels different from a traditional hospital environment. The winner, London-based design and architectural studio Urban Salon, started the reimaging process by taking a fresh approach to the often institutional-feeling of registration areas and waiting rooms.

For example, the waiting room positioned at the front of the building creates a café-like space with free coffee and WiFi. “We made the conscious decision to locate the waiting room next to the full-height glazing to the street to destigmatize the center,” says Caroline Keppel-Palmer, managing director, at Urban Salon, “but at the same time, we applied a ‘fog’ to the glazing to offer privacy to users but still allow light in.”

Each of the clinic’s 16 consultation rooms is divided into two separate areas—a conversational space in front and a screened-off examination area in back—to relax visitors and encourage discussion. The doors are finished in blackboard laminate, where staff can write their names in chalk when in use.

Artwork plays a major role in setting visitors at ease, while having a little fun with the subject matter. Two commissioned mobiles by Arnold Goron in the waiting area have forms that resemble sex organs, while each of the consultation rooms has brightly colored ceiling art by artist/designer Allison Dring that uses sexual puns and imagery (one shows a pattern of crowns based on the slang phrase “crown jewels”).  

The approach extends to the wayfinding system, which replaces traditional word-based signage with graphics designed by Martin McGrath.