In the photo, this former doctor’s home resembles a fairy tale house emerging from the wood. To discover that it is in the middle of the village of Oosterlo, one has to pay it a visit. Furthermore, with a park-like garden that is open to the public, the nursing home even opens its doors to the life of the village. This gesture already demonstrates that the philosophy of the Perrekes House is quite distinct, and that its ideas are inseparably linked to the architectural choices made for this accommodation.
But what goes on inside is no fairy tale. It is a nursing home for people at various stages of dementia. Carla Molenberghs, its director, has been intensively engaged in housing and care services for this vulnerable group for thirty years. The Perrekes House creates a holding environment and aims to maintain the independence and dignity of its residents. This principle pervades the entire design by NU architectuuratelier, who converted and extended the existing villa as part of an intensely collaborative process. One element that certainly helped define the design was the research conducted by Esther Goris in preparation for the Open Call. She produced studies on living with dementia and was involved throughout the project.
Institutions such as this all too often become introverted buildings, but the vision behind the Perrekes House expressly demanded the admittance of the outside world. NU architectuuratelier translated the philosophy of the holding environment into the architectural idea of the mediating space and thereby laid the foundations for the exceptional atmosphere of the project, which feels intimate and secure, but is simultaneously open and inviting. It is a house that mediates between many different scales and multiple dimensions: between the village and the centre, between the villa and the garden, but also between old and new, past and present, day and night, visitor and resident. All the transitions were designed with great naturalness and attention to their use.
Inside the villa, the open kitchen is the beating heart of the project. The residents and their visitors prepare food here, which can then be shared out on the specially designed tables. The kitchen adjoins a covered outdoor space, while the front room with its piano is a quiet place to which one can escape. On the first floor are a number of small flats whose original details take the residents back to a time that should feel familiar to them: the project has post-war building in its bones. The black-stained extension of the villa has ten rooms that exude the same ‘timeless datedness’, with a restrained choice of materials and details. The fact that NU had reflected on the holding environment, right down to the furniture, is shown by the cradle-bed they developed, in which the residents can gently rock themselves to sleep.
NU architectuuratelier designed a new pavilion for the bottom of the garden. It provides a supplementary space for the residents’ various activities, but there is also room for child care, should it be necessary, and also activities organised by the villagers. This is where the Perrekes House can invite the outside world inwards. While the villa is more about the indoors, this garden pavilion is geared towards the outside: the full-length front windows can be opened up entirely and its spacious veranda frames a picturesque view of the villa. The excellent acoustics of the tailor-made panelling make the pavilion perfect for performances. The house and this pavilion offer complementary experiences. The public domain expands in the residents’ shrinking world. Almost a fairy tale.
- Eireen Schreurs
This project is published in Flanders Architectural Review N°14. When Attitudes Take Form