In contrast to generic retirement homes, which focus mainly on the needs of the inhabitants and the nurses, this project wants to emancipate a third and equally important user: the visitor, be it family, friend or passer-by. Involving this third party in the equation changes the way a retirement home is conceived in more ways than one. These changes develop simultaneously from two opposite poles: the urban context and the private cell.
On the inside, each room is split in two, offering both a living space and a bedroom area to the residents. The sleeping area with low large windows focuses on complete privacy, whilst the living room offers the exact opposite. Large sliding doors enable the residents to open up their private living area into the hallway, immersing themselves in the daily life of the home, following the activities of the staff, other residents, visitors or passers-by outside. The large hallways function like extensions of the private cell: more than circulation corridors, they become collective spaces that can effortlessly host visitors. Slightly over-scaled and directly linked to the outside, these spaces allow lingering and interacting in a calm and generous way. Filled with activity and life especially in the weekend when family and friends pay a visit, the proportion of the hallways seems just right. During the week, when less people pass by, the size of the corridors fills them with a sense of anticipation.
On the outside, the addition of 54 new care units offers a unique opportunity to complete the – rather haphazard – structure of the original caretaking centre. The positioning of a 4.400 m² program on a virtually filled up site led to kneading the program into a trident volume that addresses the suburban situation on multiple levels. The gardens around the premises are changed from residual patches of green into defined autonomous yards of either introverted or public character. The latter become new paths through the urban landscape. They define the front facades of the building and its main access. On the other side, the terrace on the first floor becomes a belvedere onto the surrounding (sub)urban reality.
The generously opened up facades enable the residents and the staff to fully enjoy the gardens around. They materialize towards the public spaces in shiny red glazed tiles, towards more intimate or functional spaces in light grey plaster. The facades work as contact surfaces: they are open enclosures that turn the elderly home into a multi-layered environment activating its immediate surroundings. Before, both the elderly home and the non-descript suburban development were closed in on themselves. Now, without drama, a single building triggers a productive relation with its context by addressing a community both inside and outside the building, initiating a public dimension far beyond its own plot.
This building has been published in Architecture Review Flanders N°11. Embedded Architecture. This text has been provided by the architectural office.