The build of the Defence establishment

Main Courtyard

The development will extend to over 47,000m2 of floor space, of which approximately 41,000m2 will be new, purpose-built accommodation.

There will be a state of the art Integrated Treatment Zone containing purpose built gyms and pools that will provide a high degree of flexibility. Separate accommodation for complex trauma and neurological patients will be provided with separate, purpose-designed external garden spaces, along with a diagnostic imaging centre and purpose-built prosthetics department.

A specialist Performance Maximization Centre will be housed in a new pavilion to the north of the Hall. It will contain a high-end Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment (CAREN) to give injured service men and women access to the highest specification facilities and to utilize the very latest technology. CAREN creates a virtual interactive world that responds to a patient’s movements. In addition, a specialist gait laboratory will allow biomechanical assessment using an optical motion capture system – electronic sensors on the patient’s body linked to sophisticated computer equipment will generate complex 3D reconstructions of how a patient walks and moves. Research will also form an important part of the work done in this pavilion.

A second pavilion will house the staff messes. Together with the other alterations and extensions to the Hall, these two new pavilions will act to both reinforce the prominence of the Hall and to restore a greater level of symmetry to its composition.

Mental health will be attended to in dedicated facilities and provision will be made for social workers, welfare facilities and a health centre providing primary care.

The Hall will be adapted to provide modern training and education facilities that will allow clinical rehabilitation skills and expertise in DNRC practitioners to be strengthened. But these facilities will also allow new skills and treatments to be shared with visiting staff from around the UK and taken back for introduction to their regional or local rehabilitation centres.

Beyond the perimeter of the Defence establishment, outdoor rehabilitation facilities such as trim trails and hand cycle routes and sports facilities have been unobtrusively located in the Parkland and running tracks and hand cycle trails have been woven round the perimeter of the Estate and through the woodlands. Patients will also have access to the open space, landscaping and associated recreational features in the Parkland.

Architectural Approach

Two of the key guiding principles underpinning the architectural approach have been that the design had to facilitate clinical rehabilitation, but also that those receiving care there should feel strongly that someone cares about them and that the facilities are the best that money can buy. It had to be a place that would attend to the health and wellbeing of the whole person and not just to their physical injuries. Whatever they have experienced, armed forces personnel will know that in the new Defence establishment they will be safe, they will be well cared for and that they are not forgotten.

Evidence over the years has favoured traditional architecture as being highly conducive to rehabilitation and adds to the therapeutic qualities of the design. It creates a tranquil atmosphere, in an environment more attuned to the human senses and thereby aids recovery. The use of traditional architecture also allows the design to become part of the surrounding landscape, whilst creating distinguished, timeless buildings that stand apart from the ordinary and are befitting of the respect the nation has for its armed forces.

“It’s about the physical and the mental aspects of the healing process – creating a place where people can get better and feel well again” – John Simpson, Principal of John Simpson Architects, reflects on the monastic origins of hospitals, how attending to the wellbeing and spiritual needs of patients is every bit as important as their physical health in motivating people to get better and how this influenced the arrangement of the buildings, courtyards and gardens in the DNRC.

At its core the Defence establishment is very much a clinical facility and extensive consultations with the Headley Court staff, including over 300 separate user group meetings, have informed the design.  But the task the architects were set was to create a modern, 21st century clinical facility within buildings designed in accordance with the principles of traditional architecture.  They also had to be flexible, not least to allow new technologies yet to be developed to be incorporated in the future.

Keith Millay, Managing Director of Steffian Bradley Architects, discusses how these aspects have been interwoven and how the traditional elements have been used to enhance the clinical solution.

In creating traditional buildings that needed to function well as clinical facilities and to deliver the flexibility required to adapt them to different uses and technologies over time, there was potential for these to be viewed as competing and incompatible requirements. This risk was carefully considered from the outset and by the design team as a whole, a process in which the contributions of the civil and structural engineers was as important as those of the architects. That the outcome is so successful is testament to the skills and experience that this professional team brought to the project.

"We want to build something that will last for hundreds of years – that is classical but adaptable and flexible." Joanna Wachowiak, Partner at John Simpson Architects, reflects on the challenges working with listed buildings presented the design team and how these were overcome.

In designing the facilities that enable the creation of the DNRC, the architects did not work in isolation however - the clinical teams at Headley Court participated in over 300 separate meetings with the design team and their requirements are fully reflected in the final designs.

Dame Carol Black, Expert Advisor to the Department of Health and the author of the influential 2008 report ‘Working for a Healthier Tomorrow’, tells us about how successful she believes this process has been.

Respecting the Grade II* Listed Buildings

The Stanford Hall Estate is much loved in the local community and has been considered to be of sufficient importance to attract Grade II* listed status. The creation of the DNRC at Stanford was therefore a very big ask and it was extremely important that the design of the new buildings both respected and was sensitive to the existing buildings.

Joanna Wachowiak explains how the challenges working within a listed Estate presented were successfully met.

What is unique about the approach to the design?

The DNRC will break new ground in many ways, not least in that it will set new standards and create new precedents. The creation of a new rehabilitation centre on the scale of the DNRC has not been attempted in the UK previously and the approach to planning and designing the facility will stand as an exemplar for how to design clinical rehabilitation facilities.

Keith Millay explains why the DNRC is different and what is novel and innovative about the design.


The extensions and new pavilions immediately around the Hall will be built of a high quality brick with natural stone dressings. These will be simpler than the existing combination of natural and cast stone dressings on the north elevation of the Hall in order to preserve the pre-eminent position of this elevation in the architectural hierarchy.

The Clock Tower from the demolished Stable Block has been retained and will form a prominent feature in the entrance to the Main Courtyard and the new clinical buildings.

The buildings around the Walled Garden will be simpler in detail and appearance, taking their inspiration from the classical vernacular style of Gardener’s Cottage, the Bothy and other buildings that were once an integral part of the working Estate.

As prominent clinical buildings, the Complex Trauma and Neurological Gymnasia have been designed to stand out from the rest of the clinical core and when viewed from within the Parkland will appear as pavilions in their own right.


The design intent has always been that the materials used should be gentle, not brash; the buildings easy and intuitive to use; the atmosphere soothing but uplifting. The choice of materials used in the Defence establishment is therefore hugely important and the 2 examples below help to illustrate this.

The first is that the materials used, in particular on exterior aspects of the design such as the roofs and facades, are fundamental to expressing and communicating the significance of what the DNRC is all about.

The variety of shade and quality of bricks used will form a richness of construction that people will read instinctively and this approach, together with the use of yellow and light buff shades of bricks in limited areas, will underline the design of the Defence establishment as a series of buildings, adding prominence to the most important buildings, and reflecting the historic architectural qualities of the estate.

Joanna Wachowiak explains the rationale behind the selection of different materials.

The second is that the materials chosen can never be justified solely on the grounds of creating impressive and grand appearances. Justification must come from creating value for money or, putting this another way, from the cost benefits. The savings in maintenance costs of the life of a building that can be achieved through using more durable, sustainable materials are considerable and this was a key underlying principle in the decisions made.

John Simpson discusses the linkages between choices of materials and the benefits that can be realized, both in terms of reduced costs over the life of buildings and in terms of the wellbeing of patients and staff.


The buildings are complemented by a series of landscaped courtyards and small gardens that have been created amidst the facility. Some are intended to be used as external treatment spaces whilst others will be used for leisure and relaxation.

Evidence based design in healthcare has demonstrated that patients and staff all benefit through engagement with the natural landscape. The unique setting of Stanford Hall and its surroundings will offer a healing environment which joins body, spirit, science and healing.

The existing formal terraces and gardens, such as the Italian Terrace, will be restored and new landscape areas created to form a range of formal gardens, courtyards and less formal landscaping. Gardens will also be created around other external features such as the Sea Lion and Penguin Pools and the diving boards from the Lido will be relocated to a small courtyard adjacent to the Pools Complex. The Main Courtyard inside the Entrance will have a dual function, being both the main public space in the clinical core and providing space for a number of clinical functions.

Injured service men and women often experience feelings of insecurity and stress in open spaces and an important design consideration has therefore been the creation of smaller, enclosed outdoor spaces that eliminate or reduce these stressors. The retention of the Walled Garden is one of the best examples of this and forms an ideal space for the creation of a therapeutic and secure environment in which healing can take place.

Much of Stanford Hall Estate is registered parkland and it was therefore essential that the new buildings should sit well within this landscape in a way that would create the right environment for rehabilitation whilst also being acceptable to English Heritage (now Historic England).

But this spectacularly beautiful setting also opened up the possibility that the whole site could be considered in the context of clinical rehabilitation. There were tremendous opportunities to explore how the landscape might be used to create therapeutic environments that would both enhance clinical outcomes and create better experiences for patients and staff.

Keith Millay tells us about the nature of the challenges of working within a registered parkland setting and how, ultimately, this worked in their favour.

The Architectural Achievements

When it opens, the DNRC will be a facility that the whole nation can be proud of and will stand testament to both the imagination of the Duke of Westminster’s vision and the drive and determination of the team that delivered it.

At the point that construction was about to commence, we asked the architects to tell us which aspects of the project they were personally most proud of. Keith Millay and Joanna Wachowiak share their thoughts.

Fun facts and figures