If I open my window facing east today, it seems as if nothing has changed. And yet, the ominous stillness of the scene portends some great transformation that I am unable to predict. In theory, the yellow buildings, the tall chimney, the water tank are still there, intact. Only the car park is practically empty.
The hospital, which has been my neighbour since I moved into my house, has been recently transferred to brand new headquarters. They took a few years to build and furnish, and once it was ready there was a long delay before the actual removal, owing to an issue with subterranean water leaking into the basement.
This protracted time kept me from worrying about the matter, but I knew all along that things were going to change radically for my district. Now, all of a sudden I see how big these changes will be.
The old hospital dated back to the 1920’s. For the time if was a cutting-edge structure, consisting of an orderly grid of buildings scenically scattered around a green park with majestic trees. From the start it was outfitted with the latest technology available, and its equipment has always been kept up-to-date – although, comprehensibly, its overall conception was not adequate anymore. On a recent visit to my cousin in the maternity ward, I realised with dismay that the huge windows had single glazing and the ceiling must have been
I didn’t use to like our hospital. I didn’t find its cream plaster attractive, and the chimney standing out from the middle of the buildings looked like an industrial fixture attached to a health-care establishment without really fitting in.
However, since I took an interest in architecture, I had revalued this place. Buildings of all sorts are interesting testimony of their epoch, even those that were designed to carry out a productive or other practical function. Industrial archaeology teaches how buildings that were for a long time dismissed as being uninteresting are often not devoid of decorative ambitions – besides, of course, being precious evidence to the development of industry, commerce and services in the modern era.
This hospital was indeed a landmark of the town, a great monumental work of efficiency for the times it was built. Its homogeneous architecture rose in a wholesome beautiful district, at the foot of the old town sitting on the hill. The opportunity to develop this privileged area will not pass unnoticed to private investors who will only be too eager to pull down the old wards and raise tall residential buildings in their stead. And the penny-stripped council will only rub its hands after selling this enticing estate and seeing a fabulous amount of planning fees tinkle into its coffers.
The long lifespan of the old hospital is now over. From my side of the fence I have seen it change slowly, almost imperceptibly, over the years. The meadow that was formerly used for the landing of helicopters was turned into the staff’s car park – floodlit by orange street lights at night, drab grit replacing the sea of grass that in summer reached wild heights before being mowed down by the gardeners. The memory of the wind from the propeller making the tall grass undulate like ocean billows has grown dimmer and dimmer.
Then, some of the beautiful pine-trees that lined the last building fell over after a particularly heavy snowfall years ago, never to be replaced by new ones. Their disappearance, as well as the conversion of the meadow, shortened the distance between my house and the hospital. The new building development is probably going to swallow up the whole of this area and compress my living space even more.
The old structure maybe didn’t convey the sense of modern efficiency that a hospital is supposed to transmit nowadays, but it certainly had something graceful about it. Especially now that it has been dismissed and is bound to disappear for ever.