As part of the Architecture Fringe 2017 core programme, that seeked to examine and reflect upon the current state of architecture and architectural culture in Scotland, McGinlay Bell were invited to participate in a research project entitled ‘New Typologies’. Our research project, with a particular focus on the Health Centre, asked us to imagine how our shared civic infrastructure will exist in the future, if at all.
Our research began with the idea in the brief of ‘infra’ structure or the ‘below’ structure within society. We examined the ‘Health Centre’ typology more laterally as ‘health’ and wellbeing within the city. At present the ‘Health Centre’, and in general buildings of health, are a reactionary typology that one uses after an event. Be that feeling unwell, the news of a relative being sickly or a diagnosis, resulting in these building acquiring a stigmatism and singularity in use. We approached the typology with the opposite intent, and explored a programme that encourages a passive use by anyone, at any time, be they ill or not.
Early in the process, we identified mental health and wellbeing as one of the major challenges of the 21st century. Unlike sickness or disease, which can often be treated by pills or procedures; stress, anxiety, depression and other similar conditions have an opaquer course of treatment. Furthermore, the causes of which are ingrained in a person’s social and material setting, or upbringing and relationships.
We considered the proposal to be a tool for all, including the staff and family members, but in particular young adults in dealing with mental well-being issues and life debilitating circumstances. Whilst this is not something that can be achieved through a single room, diagnosis or conversation. Our research showed that architecture can have a positive effect for people dealing with mental wellbeing. A key part of our design was to find a human scale and a welcoming, calm atmosphere to help people relax and begin a conversation.
To achieve this, we are advocating the de-institutionalisation, de-categorise and re-centralisation of the health centre, and proposing it as more than just a space for treatment, or waiting room, but as a myriad of typologies: A Health Centre, A Spiritual Place, A Sanctuary, A Place of refuge, A Refectory, A Retreat, A Landscape, A Vessel, A Public room, A Running track, A Gallery, A Bath house, A Library; thus allowing the programme to be used in a more varied, relaxed and passive manner, therefore removing the stigmatism of the ‘health centre’ and its occupation.
The discourse around mental health is often one people reluctantly engage with candidly. Our response to this was to celebrate the idea of mental wellbeing with an overt, celebratory and recognisable piece of architecture that actively engages with people, the city, the street and talks openly about the subject matter.
The organisational principles are focused around a hierarchy of public to private spaces. With the first gesture being a public room that opens itself to the street, inviting people in. However, we were also interested in the idea of creating a retreat from the inner city, thus the other side of the public room opens to a parkland, which can be glimpsed from the street. Creating a distinction yet dialogue between the front and the back and the public and the private.
The building as a diagram can be read as a robust and expressive solid that represent the traditional, conventional clinical spaces, with the carved-out volumes representing the public realms and functions. The solid mass is proposed as a cross laminated timber structure. This in part, gives the feeling of solidity and security, yet a sense of warmth and comfort to the spaces. But simultaneously, it purifies the internal air, reduces the heart rate of the occupants and cuts down the embodied energy of the construction.
If one room can alter how we feel, if our happiness can hang on the colour of the walls or the shape of a door, what will happen to us in most of the places we are forced to look at and inhabit? What will we experience in a house with prison-like windows, stained carpet tiles and plastic curtains?
We envisage that this building becomes the fulcrum of a community that functions as an open house throughout, from the public room to the walled garden. It would be owned and run in part by that community, but principally a product of an expanded NHS that massively increases focus into mental wellbeing. With independent companies providing the refectory, bath house and library elements mentioned prior, but without any stake in the overall principle of the building.
We are advocating the future of the health centre as more than a single typology, but a series of spaces that focus on atmospheres, texture, calmness and spatial qualities that make people feel better. Mental wellbeing cannot be delivered by prescription or procedure, but something that is much more complex that begins with an honest conversation about how someone is feeling.