WHEN the idea of building a new home for the Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice was first raised, the presentation from Nordic Architecture made a lasting impression because of its simple message.

It wanted to create a building that was strangely familiar but curiously new.

That is exactly what architect Alan Pert and his team have come up with.

Their plans for the site at Bellahouston Park are for four traditional villas that link up, creating something that is familiar, while including state-of-the-art facilities for the 21st century. You couldn't get more curiously new.

"One of things that is amazing about the hospice they have just now is you would never know what it is from the outside, and that's important for people coming into that hospice," he explains.

"They don't feel intimidated because it's a fairly typical Glasgow facade; a sandstone building. You don't know whether it's an office of a hospice or a hotel.

"That was a challenge when trying to design a brand new building - not to lose that. It's a very contemporary building but some of the ideas that are in it and some of the forms and the gables mean it looks fairly traditional."

This is the first hospice to be designed by award-winning Nordic Architecture, who created the WASPS South Block studios in Glasgow's Merchant City, and are currently working on the abandoned modernist building of St Peter's Seminary in Cardross.

Their sensitivity to the needs of staff and patients has been key to the success of the new design.

"I think they would probably say they chose us because they felt we could work with them and listen to them, rather than dictate to them how we wanted to do things," reflects Alan.

"Hospice chief executive Rhona Baillie was deliberate about the fact she didn't want to replicate another hospice. She wanted someone who was going to approach it differently."

He added: "While there were a lot of things that weren't working in Carlton Place, weren't flexible and couldn't really adapt to 21st century needs, it was a building that felt like home.

"You can come in and design any building but the way the organisation runs is one of the things we had to understand.

"For us, one of the first things was to say, right, a lot of things don't work and if you had a blank canvas you would try and organise it better. But we were worried that by taking a traditional architectural approach and trying to fix all the problems you might design out some of the social aspects of the building that work.

"An example is the cafe which sits off the entrance foyer. Everyone who comes downstairs has to walk through the cafe and if you were sitting with a plan you would probably say that was a bad thing. But it forces the staff to interact with patients and family members."

The site hadn't been chosen when earliest discussions took place four years ago between Alan's team and the hospice. As soon as the land at Bellahouston Park was confirmed, the surroundings immediately helped to shape the plan.

The year-round green landscape and immediate access to outdoor space was pivotal.

"We studied other hospice projects and tried to work out what was wrong. One nurse said the biggest complaint was walking backwards and forwards along corridors and not feeling a connection to the patients," says Alan.

"Individual rooms bring the need for a corridor. One of the unique things about what we have designed is individual rooms which cater for privacy and dignity but are clustered into bedroom courtyards and open up to a social space.

"That was a huge challenge and something we were quite focused on: trying to make sure there was an intimacy about the building and it didn't feel too institutionalised, although it has to deal with huge clinical issues."

The four linked villas in the park reflect the traditional architecture of that area of the south side of Glasgow. Inside, it will be all mod cons.

Technology has made a huge impact on the planning process with wi-fi, for example, offering flexibility to the layout of rooms and the option of a green biomass heating system.

It is the green space outside that has the most important role.

"Rhone wanted every patient to be able to wake up in the morning with the sunrise and fantastic views to the gardens," he says.

"So every bedroom has a view to the garden, with every patient and every bed having access to the outside world. It's a bit like a veranda space where you can pull a bed out and still be under cover."

All the windows are floor to ceiling, bathing rooms in light and bringing the outdoors in.

There are an additional two rooms for younger patients and a hydrotherapy pool, as well as a library and a new space for the Butterfly Room, for children who have a loved one in the hospice.

A welcome addition in an art gallery to exhibit the work of patients. Its impact has left a lasting mark on the architect.

"The biggest surprise for me was the role of art in the building. You don't typically think about that in a hospice," says Alan.

"For me, one of the most powerful things that sums up the experience of that hospice is two paintings on the wall when you walk into Carlton Place.

"One is a painting a woman did who had a couple of children, was very young and had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and only had a week or so to live. She painted a scene: a black sky and a moon, with a wolf; it's quite a dark painting and was done within the first couple of days of her being in the hospice.

"There's another painting alongside of it, done three or four weeks later, it's bright and full of colour. Those two paintings tell you someone went in there with real fear, pain and suffering, thinking 'How do I communicate this to my children?'

"The whole experience of the hospice helped her try and manage that and deal with it.

"The artwork is an amazing way of patients expressing how they feel. When patients pass away their artwork is still on the wall, so there's this legacy of people represented through the art and I think that's an amazing aspect to that building."

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Tomorrow: Davie Cameron talks movingly about the care his late wife Beatrice received at the hospice