Replacing Institutions With Modern Spaces For Healing
Architecture for mental institutions, psychiatric wards and mental health facilities has seen a drastic change. While this change is clearly in line with the changed modern perception of mental health and those of us who suffer especially severe mental illnesses, it is also being heavily influenced by the positive response seen in patients of facilities that incorporate considered design techniques and features.
While traditionally the overall model for pioneering mental institutions was built upon providing privacy and greater quality of life for patients, who would otherwise be hidden in private houses or the basements of community buildings, this quickly turned into a money making ploy, with the so-called ‘mentally insane’ amassing in their thousands, placed into over-stuffed gothic buildings, suffering anything from epilepsy to full scale (undiagnosed) schizophrenia.
These traditional development models became so very terrible, with the iconic Bethlem Hospital example, where patients of the overcrowded institution were placed on show to the public who were given sticks to poke said patients with.
These spaces were no more than jail-like institutions that simply no longer have a place in modern society, with our understanding of both mental health and the positive influence architecture and design can have over this.
In fact, in most modern societies globally, the goal for those in the mental health sector is to not provide these spaces at all, but to create community based support programs for those of us who do suffer from manageable mental health issues. This is however, not always an option, so it is up to the industry to provide specifically tailored buildings that provide safety for both the community and patients, offering the latter the highest possible quality of life.
One such recently completed modern development is the Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital in the US. Standing as one of the most expensive public developments in the state of Massachusetts this $302 million building is a feat of considered design.
Personal space and privacy are leading factors behind the design approach in order to protect patients who need tailored inpatient care, offering them both physical and emotional safety, with this notion further backed by a recent study ‘Personal Space: Interior design approaches to bedrooms in mental health developments’, a research study undertaken by the Architecture and Design Scotland (A+DS) Health Programme. The study found that through considered design that makes patients feel secure, nurtured but also allows independence, inpatient stays were reduced by 14% among a number of other positive results.
While the architect Frank Pitts admits that the overall design model was not intentionally influenced by studies of this nature, it was however heavily influenced and lead by advice from psychiatrists, neuroscientists, nurses, researchers, and families of patients.
While safety has been a key point of focus for designers, who have included anti-hanging light fixtures and high impact-absorbing wall and flooring materials, the space has been designed to largely resemble an enclosed community. This includes patients ‘houses’ which fit into their ‘neighbourhoods’ which then translate to ‘downtown’ or communal spaces, complete with gyms, cafes and leisure centres.
Getting the balance between privacy and community was a challenge for designers admits Pitts.
“How do you design a place where people who are not related are going to live and heal together?” says Pitts.
Each of the 320 beds are located in private rooms, which have been designed to allow those who reside in these ‘suites’ privacy and the choice to socialise in their ‘houses’, which consist of eight to ten bedrooms clustered around both quiet and more active living spaces.
The rooms have been designed to view only exterior corridors, which allow patients ultimate levels of privacy, with the option for said patients to analyse their whereabouts, who is out and about and whether or not they feel comfortable joining – giving them a level of safe control over their environment and themselves.
This mentality empowers patients and prepares them for the overall goal of the centre –community living. With mental health issues so prevalent in modern society, the ‘us and them’ nature of institutional facilities no longer has a place in the built arena, just as it no longer has a place in educated, modern minds.