Center for therapy and sensory stimulation

Project

The thesis examines and explores how architecture, through a stimulation of the senses, is able to affect the mental and physical state of its users, further optimizing the process of healing. Excessive sensory stimuli present in the human environment lead to selective perception and cognitive discomfort.

The project is a harmonious environment which aims to provoke our senses without excessive stimulation. The spaces aim to use the surrounding environment at its fullest by integrating the architecture with its immediate natural context as means to introduce the users to therapeutic treatment. The architecture develops as a series of diverse environments articulated through different colors and textures of concrete, coupled with wood these materials are featured extensively within the interiors as means of referencing the natural environment of the forest. A minimalist form at the center along with its monochromatic interiors is designed to stimulate creativity and imagination of the younger patients while providing a space which can be easily transformed and used freely. Light here plays a pivotal role both in its ability to transform and play with the façades and the interior.

The project is an example of how a small number of elements and interventions can create a Space rich in sensory experiences.

Interview

What prompted the project?

The reason for taking up this topic was a personal interest in the threshold between architecture, the senses and sensory design. Through this thesis, I wanted to address a problem that required an extensive part of research whilst drawing attention to the relationship between architecture and the senses, something I believe is minimized in the contemporary modern, in humanized world. Within the project, I aimed to make architecture an active participant within the process of medical healing.

What case studies did you look to for inspiration and why?

In theoretical and research terms, the greatest inspiration were the books of Peter Zumthor’s, in which he magically describes the atmosphere of space and how we perceive it. Similarly, The Eyes of the Skin by Juhani Palasma was also very inspiring and help me lay a theoretical framework for the project.
From an architectural point of view, I looked to projects as Therme Vals in Switzerland by Peter Zumthor as well as works by Carlo Scarpa and Eduardo Souto de Moura and the way these architects implemented natural materials and concrete in an unusual and very sensorial way. Within all of these projects natural light is to create an interior atmosphere of harmony, symmetry and symbolism.
Another important part for my research and inspiration focused on evidence-based design and medical architecture, healthy environments which support the process of healing. The first reference was Alvar Aalto’s ‘Paimio Sanatorium’ in terms of the extreme attention to detail as a means to cater to all of the patient’s needs. Other examples of buildings that are subordinate to their users and at the same time support the impairment of the senses are Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired by Taller de Arquitectura-Mauricio Rocha, Rehabilitation Centre Groot Klimmendaal by Koen van Velsen and Anchor Center for Blind Children by Davis Partnership Architects.

What informed the use of concrete as primary material?

In this project concrete is both a structural element and aesthetic component. The context was important indefining the choice of this material, the plot on which the center is located is a forest and the assumption was that the form would contrast with the dark colors of the tree trunks and somehow emerge amongst them. Concrete is extremely flexible in that it can me crafted into numerous forms as well as textures and colors.

How did you develop and design the multitude of spaces and the route between each of these?

The project consists of two buildings.

The first is dedicated to therapy and hosts medical functions, it features; spaces for medical consultations, waiting rooms, a cafe, an area where patients who have long-term therapy can stay for a couple of days and a therapeutic part with various types of rooms. All these spaces have been designed to facilitate navigation and orientation, while maintaining a sense of comfort and the required intimacy. Flexibility of the plan was also very important while designing a space for children, who will stay in the center for longer periods of time. The circulation was based on the idea of maximizing internal exposure to the surrounding greenery. Therefore, individual functional zones surround an internal courtyard in which trees grow, allowing for each zone to be surrounded by the forest.

The second building serves as a place to stimulate the senses and sensual experience. The spaces here can be used as an extension to therapy, but they are not medical facilities. This building is more symbolic. The round shape was inspired by the cross-section of a tree trunk, as well as symbols of health, in which spirals have been present for centuries. The ground floor of the building consists of different zones. These are accessed through corridor which connects all of the zones, symbolizing the dependence and compensatory role of the senses in the human body. The order results from highlighting the functions of individual senses. The tour begins with hearing and the exclusion of other sensory stimuli, towards other senses – gradually increasing the number of stimuli, ending with a touch which is the most intimate and direct of the senses. Each shape of the interior spaces results from the specifics of sense’s work and the type of activity performed in a zone.

What is the power of colour in affecting and stimulating the senses? How was this implemented within the project?

The psychophysical properties of colors are generally known, different colors cause different reactions in our bodies regardless of our will. It is generally believed that the colour green calms us down, red stimulates our activity and yellow improves our good mood. However, there are many more important processes that can be influenced by colors in our environment. For example, the color red increases heart rate and metabolism, while blue works the other way around. The color yellow, in addition to giving the impression of warmth is the last color that disappears when you lose your eyesight. These are just a number of reactions and effects colours have on our body and unfortunately these impressions are usually generalized. Each of us reacts slightly differently to color stimuli, which is why it is often difficult to predict a specific reaction to the appearance of one of the colors. For this reason, I gave up accenting specific spaces or elements in the building using vivid colors, because it can bring both positive and negative effects. I think it is much more sensible to use the color in interiors as an addition or a variable element than to design interiors with a color immediately imposed.

Color therapy is another issue. This is a type of therapy that uses color radiation that affects our body in a moment. Color therapy is often a supplement to the therapy of children with sensory integration disorders or autism. Research confirms that the blind feel electromagnetic radiation, which creates a red color and “see” it in the form of warm felt by the skin. It can be said that the skin can see colors, which confirms the effect of color on other senses than eyesight. In the project there are special pods for color therapy in the zone of sight stimulation. In addition, this therapy can be carried out in pools located underground using the different water illumination.

What are for you the fundamental architectural elements which have the power of stimulating the senses?

In my master thesis, I try to prove that architecture is able to stimulate all human senses. In the modern world we are dealing with hegemony of the sense of sight, moreover we are forgetting about the importance of the others. I believe that architecture, especially health care buildings should be designed taking into account the impact on all human senses, which is connected with well-being and physical condition.
It is difficult to mention specific components of architecture that affect our senses. Just as we feel space with all our senses, the building affects us with all its elements at the same time. Architecture itself has a power to stimulate our senses.
I believe that all elements of architecture are just as important as all senses in our perception.

What is your take on light' how important was this element within the project? how did the architecture design to manipulate this within the different spaces?

Light can affect our mood, build atmosphere of a space, alert or inform one about something. Research has confirmed that it also has a direct impact on human health. The use of appropriate lighting can accelerate the treatment process, affect the sense of security, a patient’s mood, alertness and levels of concentration. In this case the most important aspect was in terms of the atmosphere of the space. Each functional zone required different lighting; whilst some of the rooms don’t feature natural light at all, the geometric ceiling of the for rooms for sensory integration disorder therapy dispersed light through skylights. This treatment is intended to stimulate the creativity and imagination of children. A large amount of light in the doctors’ offices creates a friendly atmosphere and calming effect. In contrast, dark or poorly lit spaces in the sense’s stimulation zones are designed to arouse curiosity and sharpen other senses.

What is for you the architect’s ultimate tool?

Imagination. It is infinite.

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