A healing environment for violent offenders
Helix, located south of Stockholm, is one of Sweden’s most modern forensic psychiatric care facilities. Helix combines high levels of security with a healing, sound-friendly interior.
From the outside, Helix looks like a modern office complex on a hill nestled amid beautiful, unspoiled scenery. From the large windows of the patients’ rooms, you can gaze out for miles over a panorama of spruce and pine forests. Helix, opened in December 2012, is a forensic psychiatric care facility. Many of its patients have committed violent crimes. In addition to the care facility, Helix also houses an assessment department and an outpatient department, both focused on forensic psychiatry.
We know that architecture, space, sound, colours and light can have a positive effect on the human psyche.
The complex consists of four buildings and extensive grounds. If you look more closely in the forest near the main building, you can see that the site is surrounded by a six-metre-high wall, a security fence and numerous surveillance facilities. Security is rigorous, but the patients’ rooms are located higher up the hill, so the wall and other installations do not encroach on the view.
“Helix offers modern forensic psychiatric care based on the latest research in healing environments. We know that architecture, space, sound, colours and light can have a positive effect on the human psyche,” says Magnus Kristiansson, deputy director and unit manager at the Stockholm region’s forensic psychiatric care service.
“The big windows in the wards and the patients’ rooms provide natural daylight from all directions. Patients can feel the day progressing as they look out over calming scenery,” observes Anna Rolf, the architect who designed the facility.
However, security is also a top priority. Given the risk of escape and liberation attempts, the window glass is strong enough to easily withstand an angle grinder.
The buildings housing patients are connected by large, bright atriums with a pleasant acoustic environment. The ceiling, made from natural materials, absorbs sounds. The walls have a ribbed cement surface designed to break up sound and stop it echoing. As in many of the patient spaces, the walls are not completely straight or parallel, which also prevents noise build-up.
The minimalistic interior design of the bright, spacious wards features natural materials in harmonious colours. There is a lot of wood. The floor and ceiling are sound-absorbent. “We’ve created an environment that will age gracefully,” says Anna Rolf.
Requirements concerning acoustics and noise levels for each of the 600 rooms at Helix were laid down at the planning stage. “We had to make some compromises to meet the requirements,” notes Magnus Kristiansson.
One example is the sound-reducing thresholds that were installed, which have made it more difficult to use trolleys to deliver meals, medication and other items.
The wards, like the rest of Helix, are decorated extensively with oil paintings, textile art and sculpture. “We know that art stimulates the mind and breaks the monotony for our patients, who are often here for an indefinite period. And of course, it also stimulates the staff and creates a good mood,” comments Magnus Kristiansson.
We’ve created an environment that will age gracefully.
Within the secure perimeter of the facility, the number of doors and sections is kept to a minimum, to reduce patients’ sense of confinement. “We have a healing internal environment that facilitates social activities for patients without compromising security in the slightest,” says Magnus Kristiansson.
The administrative staff work in semi-open-plan offices designed to encourage cooperation. To avoid excess noise and allow members of staff to work undisturbed and conduct confidential conversations about individual patients, the office space has sound-absorbent ceilings. Parquet flooring, fabric mats and ribbed cement walls enhance the acoustic environment. There are also plenty of private meeting rooms of various sizes.
Immediately below the office space, the staff common space brings together all the professionals working at Helix in a bright and airy dining room and cafeteria. In spite of the large, open spaces, noise levels in the common room are fairly low.
“Thanks to good space planning and the use of noise-reducing materials, we’ve managed to create a space that people enjoy being in,” says Magnus Kristiansson.
Text: Fredrik Sieradzki
Photo: Anette Persson, Doris Beling