Architecture for mental health: a therapeutic tool
Buildings have a great impact on our mood and well-being. So, it is interesting to explore the value of architecture in mental health care and to create a positive therapeutic environment. This is what we call architecture for mental health.
VALUABLE TOOL IN ILLNESS RECOVERY
Clinical and hospital spaces linked to mental health treatment have often been cold places and with poorly developed typologies. Today, the historic buildings associated with psychiatric centres are completely obsolete. Faced with the problem of mental health, architecture can act as a therapeutic tool. And mental health architecture can even play an important role in the treatment and recovery of patients.
The general trend towards the humanisation of hospital spaces is particularly relevant to those specifically intended for mental health care. For more than a century, the very architecture of the so-called asylums contributed to the stigmatisation of a range of illnesses.
However, for the treatment of mental health disorders, architecture is proving to be a valuable tool during recovery from various illnesses. Psychiatric rehabilitation today integrates contact with positive environments and the design of supportive spaces in the community.
In his thesis Healing Architecture: Evidence, Intuition and Dialogue, Stefan Lundin, an architect specialising in psychiatric facilities, argues that healing architecture must be based on certain key elements. Therefore, it is necessary to:
- Create a free and open environment.
- Promote social interaction and patient independence.
- Encourage access and contact with the outside world.
At Enero Arquitectura we work on the design of these environments based on the principles of salutogenesis, a concept created by the sociologist Aaron Antonovsky.
Indoor-outdoor permeability is also one of the keys to defining well-being in the design of these spaces. This can be seen in projects such as the proposal for the Centre for Research and Transfer in Mental Health (CRETSAM) at the San Juan de Dios Health Park in Sant Boi de Llobregat (Barcelona).
We can affirm that certain strategies are favourable in promoting architecture as a tool for mental health.
ARCHITECTURE FOR MENTAL HEALTH: INNOVATIVE STRATEGIES
The following are examples of different architectural projects with innovative strategies for the design of mental health spaces. Their intent is to assist patients through architecture for care, focussing on the human scale. And also in the need to create friendly spaces adapted to the specific needs of patients:
Sou Fujimoto Children’s Psychiatric Rehabilitation Centre
Located in Hokkaido (Japan), the centre houses children with various psychiatric disorders. The Children’s Psychiatric Rehabilitation Centre project by Sou Fujimoto recreates a small city composed of multiple spaces.
The different pieces, distributed irregularly, generate a myriad of interior environments. Living rooms, bedrooms for children and carers, play areas, etc., are functions that coexist in an organic space and are adapted to the patients.
The building, the result of a complex programme, seems to contain a random layout. And yet, it follows a strict design method where surprise, playfulness and unpredictability are valued. The strategy is to mirror the way children explore spaces.
Without a pre-established centre, children’s spontaneity also emerges in interspaces open to causal scenarios outside the box, so to speak. The unique geometries of these spaces allow patients to take free and open ownership of the area.
Their placement can be easily varied because of the space strategy. The interiors are appropriate and simple, making it easier for children to make the centre their own, accompanying them in their rehabilitation.
Atelier Martel Epilepsy Residential Care Home
Another example of architecture for mental health is the residential care home of Atelier Martel located in Dommartin-lès-Toul (France), created in response to an innovative programme for the treatment and support of people with epilepsy.
The concept behind the project is the idea of reproducing friendly spaces so that patients can feel at home. The value of everyday life is at the centre of the architects’ intentions. The space is a parallelepiped square. It is a clear symbol set in an immense landscape; a line on the horizon with no dominating façades.
The project prioritises minimising travel distances. It is an environment reminiscent of a city with squares and streets because of its interior courtyards and clearly marked and accessible living areas.
The presence of natural light is key to the project, connecting the interior with the outdoors and the surrounding natural environment. Special attention to materials for the interiors ensures the necessary warmth and protection for the patients. For example, wood, textiles, soft surfaces, etc.
The artistic statement by Mayanna von Ledebur on the concrete façades of the residence emphasises the need to allow sensorial experiences in architecture. The perforations in the façade break the severity of the material and make it a softer and more approachable surface.
The artist also creates subtle clouds of color with wool tapestries on the interior walls. The use of soft colours and the brightness of the patient rooms create a calm and cosy environment.
Casa Verde: LDA.iMdA Architetti Associati’s mental health centre for young women
And as a final example of architecture for mental health, the Casa Verde by LDA.iMdA Architetti Associati. This is a rennovation in a former orphanage within an oak forest in San Miniato (Italy). The plan preserves the original building and proposes an extension that respects the existing building and the environment.
The contemporary renovation is clearly differentiated from the original through the use of materials and spaces that contrast with the previous design. The green ventilated façade of the extension aims to blend into the surroundings and integrate the building into the landscape with the hundred-year-old cypress trees next to the building and the careful construction of the façade.
The light filtered by the micro-perforated façade creates a feeling of well-being inside. And the colours help to differentiate the different spaces and functions. The woods used in the interior spaces broaden the colour palette and give an air of lightness. The patients also contribute to the appearance of the building by decorating the façade with their own creations.
In addition, the artist Mercury-S17S71 has gotten involved in the project by creating a collection of portraits of the patients which is featured inside the centre.