Right by the sea, between Amsterdam and The Hague, is the small Dutch town of Noordwijk. Here is the Woonzorgpark Willem van den Bergh located, a residential care park for mental and physical disabled. Its new centre building is a wooden gem that blends perfectly with the dunes by the beach. And just like the dunes, it has a soft, warm and natural aura.
Most important of all, the new building captures all functions the centre provides under one roof. The 7 000 square meters comprise a restaurant, supermarket, therapy pool, a sports hall, an outpatient clinic, offices and meeting places. Before, all these functions were spread over 12 000 square meters in different buildings throughout the park. This means a much higher areal efficiency.
“It was important for us to reduce the square meters used for buildings, so we can use our resources in our core business to the benefit of our clients”, says Iwan Nieuwenhuijzen, Real Estate Project Manager at ‘s Heeren Loo.
‘s Heeren Loo is a healthcare provider in the Netherlands that offers support and housing to more than 12,000 people with a mental or physical disability.
In 2016 ‘s Heeren Loo contracted IAA Architecten to design the new centre building.
“We wanted to create a feeling of well-being, regardless the purpose of your visit. It is a building with many different functions. If you visit the doctor you have completely other needs and expectations than if you go to the supermarket. Still, it must work in both cases”, says Henk Gersen, architect and director of IAA.
The most striking with the central building is its rounded shapes and wooden façade, that speaks a natures language in harmony with its North Sea surroundings. But there are other arguments as well to this design.
“The residential houses are made of bricks. It was important to make the central building different, hence easy to recognise. That is very important for some disabled persons”, Henk Gersen states.
“It was essential that all functions came together in one compact building, without reducing the accessibility for our clients in wheelchairs or other disabilities. Even important is that people with impaired vision are able to find their way inside the building”, adds Iwan Nieuwenhuijzen.
For this reason, contrasting colours are used.
“The doors have other colours than the walls, which make them easier to identify”, says Iwan Nieuwenhuijzen.
The transition from several, different buildings to one entity opened up to create a welcoming place aimed for spontaneous as well as planned meetings. The entry hall is spacious with inviting sitting groups.
“The first meeting with the building is very important. A building is not only rooms under a roof. What you see, hear and feel must be good”, says Henk Gersen.
He underlines the importance of good acoustics in this kind of centre, where a lot of disabled persons will reside.
“Some clients can make much and unexpected noise, so it is even more important in these kinds of buildings to kill noise as close to the source as possible. To solve this, we had acoustic experts engaged early in the process.”
The sound is as important as the vision, not least for our clients with impaired vision. Our clients react very stressful on bad acoustics. For us, the acoustics are actually more important than the visual design.
As the centre building contains several different functions, each part of the building had to be adapted to its specific acoustic conditions.
“In a lot of buildings, the same kind of ceiling is used. That’s not optimal and would definitely not work in this case. Every room or part of the centre building has different functions. Thus, we had to use different kinds of ceiling and absorbents in every part of the building.”
Iwan Nieuwenhuijzen confirms that the sound environment was an important part of the assignment.
“The sound is as important as the vision, not least for our clients with impaired vision. They can be dependent on communicating with words and thus their ability to hear is crucial. Our clients react very stressful on bad acoustics. For us, the acoustics are actually more important than the visual design.”
To create a both functional and friendly architecture for the mental and physical disabled, is the most challenging task for an architect, according to Henk Gersen. It demands all professional skills and years of experience to succeed.
“We must be able to think and feel like the disabled. How will they react, what do they see, what is their perspective? If you sit in a wheelchair with limited field of view, the walls or the ceiling could be very important.”
Henk Gersen takes the restaurant as an example. If a lot of the clients sit in wheelchairs it might be logical to think that you can reduce the number of chairs in the restaurant, as the guests won’t use them anyway.
“That is wrong. What feeling will you get of that? Chairs by the tables are an important part of saying welcome.”
When asked if there is any part or function of the building he wants to highlight, Henk Gersen gets into trouble. He thinks for a moment in silence.
“Well, the exterior is really beautiful. But also, when you enter… No, I am very happy with the whole!”
Text: Lars Wirtén