Humanizing Care Spaces
Parkville is a suburb of metropolitan Melbourne, the capital of the State of Victoria, in southeastern Australia. Parkville is home to the campus of the University of Melbourne, the large Royal Park, which incorporates the city zoo and many sports facilities, as well as major research and health care organizations, such as the Mental Health Research Institute (MHRI), the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) and the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH). Recently, another valuable piece has been added to this social impact area: the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health renamed Orygen and opened in 2018. Or Orygen is the world’s leading research, training, and care program focused on the prevention and treatment of mental ill-health that affects young people aged 12 to 25. As stated in their strategic plan “Leading the revolution in mind”, about seventy-five per cent of mental ill-health starts before age 25: this fact has profound impacts on young people’s development, that is to say on the future of our society.
Orygen’s ambitious mission is supported by the cutting-edge facility that houses and connects it to Orygen Youth Health (OYH), a separately funded psychiatric clinic, completed in August 2020. Designed by Australian firm Billard Leece Partnership, the Orygen and OYH Parkville center is spread over a large area, surrounded by greenery. A perfect synergy has been achieved between the natural and urban dimensions, fostered by public transport connections, including the very close Royal Park train station.
The project is composed of three main pavilions, linked together. They are shaped around a circular courtyard, where there is a tall apple bark tree, planted as a symbol of strength and resilience. The three-story buildings manage and intertwine different functions: offices, meeting rooms, research laboratories, classrooms for teaching, medical examination rooms, therapy rooms, intensive care units, accommodation for patients, and common facilities, such as relaxation areas, the cafeteria, and the panoramic terrace.
Exterior spaces are carefully designed and equipped to encourage outdoor therapeutic sessions and wellbeing exercises, either alone or in a group. Direct contact with nature is strengthened by huge windows overlooking the park and the city skyline that fades into the horizon. Inside, copious plants, natural materials, and a delicate porosity to light – which changes with the seasons, the passing of the hours, and weather conditions – reach high standards of biophilic design. This is a new design frontier that recognizes the innate, emotional affiliation of human beings with .other living organisms.
The Orygen and OYH Parkville complex is a remarkable model of accessible and inclusive architecture, inspired by the most innovative universal design criteria. Particular attention has been paid to understanding and treating LGBTQIA people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual). Identified gender and sexual orientation discrimination is a real issue for young people and not just for those living the experience. That’s why all spaces inside the facility are gender-neutral. The toilets, for example, are communal. They are identified by a sign that, in addition to tactile braille characters, shows eleven silhouettes, including an old person, a pregnant mother, a mermaid, and a robot.
Wherever possible, an open plan configuration was preferred to promote flexible use of space, as well as easy movement and assisted wayfinding. Colors, materials, finishes, and furnishings work together to define informal, relaxed, warm, and welcoming atmospheres, able to mitigate the feeling of being inside a care space. The key idea was to place the young guests at the center of the architectural project, involving them from the earliest stages of the design process. Preliminary consultations analyzed feelings, priorities, and lived experiences of young patients, just like opinions of their families, friends, and peers, in addition to the recommendations of medical and nursing staff.
Thanks to its pioneering spirit, the Orygen and OYH Parkville hub won the top prize for Best Mental Health Design at the 2019 edition of the European Healthcare Design Awards competition, which recognized its excellence in strategic vision, context, purposeful innovation, design approach, and sustainability. This project was also selected among the finalists of the 2019 INDE.Awards inside the category “The Wellness Space” and, in the same year, it was shortlisted for the “Public Design” category in the prestigious 2019 Australian Interior Design Awards.
Fotografie: © Ian Ten Seldam
Billard Leece Partnership: Project sheet