The Dyson Centre for Neonatal Care opened its doors on the 23rd July 2011 to its first babies. The Royal United Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), in Bath, has been transferred from its existing small, cramped facilities into its pioneering new home.

The Dyson Centre for Neonatal care  funded as a 50/50 partnership by NHS budgets and fundraising by The Forever Friends Appeal, has resulted in a dramatically different and improved environment in which the RUH can care for the 500 premature and sick babies that it looks after each year. A pioneering holistic and therapeutic approach towards the new building has created a new low carbon unit allowing the staff to practice new methods of care for premature and sick babies. The building consists of a single storey new‐build extension, and the refurbishment of the space occupied by the existing NICU facility.

The new‐build element accommodates the clinical, support and reception functions as a discreet but contemporary intervention. The refurbished element comprises staff and parents’ facilities. The two elements are linked by a new ‘umbilicus’ which also provides an access point for emergency vehicles. The new building encloses an external courtyard space which provides both vista and breakout from reception and parents areas. The grouping of the care rooms forms a route around the staff base which is the heart of the unit.

The clockwise circuit of cot rooms forms a diagram of intensity of care, beginning with intensive care, then on to high dependency, then special care, on to the parents’ rooms, then finally home.

From parents’ feedback progress along this ‘route’ is very important psychologically – it is important that the ever‐decreasing intensity of care is legible to parents. The consulting examination and treatment spaces are carefully day lit. Parents and staff can now perceive changing external conditions through day and night, increasing well‐being. The heart of the clinical area is generously roof lit providing daylight to all the central spaces within. Sunlight is allowed to enter the building in certain controlled areas to add sparkle and delight without disturbing the working of the unit. Within the care areas light is carefully controlled to ensure that babies gain an awareness of day and night as they develop.

Sustainability in construction and use has been central to the design of the new unit. The team were adamant that the new NICU should not be a one‐off showcase for sustainability, but should serve as a template and catalyst for sustainable health care design by challenging existing standards, defining new targets and developing strategies replicable elsewhere in the health sector. The unit is constructed entirely in cross laminated timber. This construction has benefits in terms of embodied energy, and is quick and clean to construct within a health care environment. The timber is exposed internally, creating a more calm and domestic environment within an acute clinical setting.

The project has achieved Breeam “Excellent”, and incorporates a sedum roof for rainwater attenuation, and to increase biodiversity on the site. These measures will combine to make the new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Royal United Hospital a beacon for sustainability across the health sector. The building is a case study for the next generation of healthcare buildings, a benchmark for best practice which incorporates replicable strategies which are demonstrated to pay back in a defined period, in a beautiful and therapeutic environment which is of tangible benefit to parents, staff and patients.