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Ian Clarke, 1962 – 2015

John Dias

Hospice specialist whose mission was to create welcoming and sympathetic healthcare environments

Ian Clarke, architect and director of JDDK
Ian Clarke, architect and director of JDDK

It’s a fact of the profession that the design of any building is dramatically influenced by the character of its lead architect – indeed some would go further to say the new structure is as much a physical representation of the beliefs of the designer as it is a solution to the client’s brief.

It is also a fact that many of the UK’s most prominent hospices now reflect the humanity of Ian Clarke and his team, who became such a powerful influence on the hospice movement. He will be sorely missed by both the sector and by his many friends and colleagues at Newcastle-based practice JDDK, where he was a director.

Ian’s final hospice project was one of the team’s most challenging schemes to date – redevelopment of the Sue Ryder hospice at the grade I listed Thorpe Hall at Peterborough. The phased programme involved redeveloping the existing spaces and creating a new, single storey, low-impact ward set in the old kitchen garden.

Another recent example of his work was re-building St Columba’s Hospice in Edinburgh, which had began in 2006 with studies to determine how the existing hospice could be reconfigured. The old hospice, regarded as ahead of its time when it opened in 1977 and centred on a Grade B Listed neoclassical house in Edinburgh’s Trinity conservation area, had been extended over the years, most notably with a large in-patient wing. However, progress in palliative care services meant the facility was no longer fit for purpose.

By using natural materials inside and out combining the design with integrated landscaped areas, Ian created a therapeutic, diverse and holistic environment for care. The £26m re-built hospice, which was completed last year, was highly commended in the prestigious Building Better Healthcare Awards.

His chosen specialism was just one aspect of a career which encompassed a wide variety of schemes including the quayside in Amble, the Medical School at Sunderland’s Royal Hospital, the Northern Rock Foundation in Gosforth and a state-of-the-art veterinary hospital in Sedgefield, to name but a few.

It was healthcare design, however, which became his passion, despairing of conventional hospital design, particularly wards for the elderly where, he argued, ‘distress is contagious’. His mission was to ensure that patients maintained a strong sense of self identity. At the centre of his philosophy was the patient’s bed which, he said, was too often regarded as a workbench for care delivery rather than the intimate place it should be.

  • At St Columba’s Hospice in Edinburgh Ian Clarke took historic ingredients into a new healthcare age.
    At St Columba’s Hospice in Edinburgh Ian Clarke took historic ingredients into a new healthcare age.
  • Clarke's final hospice project, the challenging converion at Thorpe Hall Hospice in Peterborough for Sue Ryder.
    Clarke's final hospice project, the challenging converion at Thorpe Hall Hospice in Peterborough for Sue Ryder.

Working closely with a variety of experts within palliative care, Ian’s skill for evidence-based design became universally acknowledged with his work widely praised in one of the most influential books on the subject, Modern Hospice Design, which also featured his projects at St Gemma’s Hospice in Leeds, St Oswald’s Hospice on Newcastle and St Patrick’s University Hospital in Cork.

The son of an architect in Stockport, Cheshire, Ian attended the local grammar school and went on to study at Sheffield University from where he not only graduated with a distinction in design but also won the 1986 RIBA President’s Dissertation Award, resulting in a scholarship to study architecture in Scandinavia.

In 1990 he joined the award-winning Newcastle-based architecture firm of Jane Darbyshire & David Kendall (JDDK), an early innovator in hospice design, after being interviewed by Jane and David for a job that didn’t exist – as David explained, ‘the reason was very simple – he is and will always be our kind of guy’.

He became a director of the practice in 2000, leading design teams on a wide variety of projects but specialising in healthcare design. With the dignity of the dying always uppermost in his mind, he designed bright, thoughtful, uplifting way stations for the terminally ill, holding passionately to the belief that they should be welcoming places which served to re-assure and comfort patients. Ian also sat on the NHS Design Review Panel and was a Cabe enabler.

Outside his work, Ian, with his wife, Judith, was a keen gardener, artist and traveller, combining all three loves in a 2012 trip to Japan, a long held dream destination for the couple. His passion there for meticulous photographing of doors, windows, joinery details and floor surfaces, may have amused his hosts but reflected his love for detailing and the minutiae of well-made things, aspects of his work that will be appreciated for many years to come.

Ian died on 25 August 2015 and is survived by Judith.