XL L M S
Academie van Bouwkunst Groningen
Space for People with Dementia
The village as a nursing home
Any damage done to the brain, our most complex body part, can cause all kinds of problems. More than 50 different illnesses can affect the brain to such a degree that sometimes we are no longer aware even of our own existence. Before it gets that far, however, there are often many years of illness fraught with anxiety and uncertainty. How does someone with dementia experience those years? And what spatial preconditions, from their own home to a nursing home, are required to create a decent living environnment for these people? Four characters invented for the occasion take us through all stages of the illness. The project seeks to determine how architecture can contribute to the quality of life for dementia patients during all these stages.
The title, XL L M S, stands for the ever decreasing experiental world of people with dementia and their ever increasing dependence on their immediate surroundings. The different scales together represent the lifeworld of the characters. The case study shows a future scenario in the Frisian village of Sint Nicolaasga. In this scenario, the entire village is regarded as the new scale of the nursing home. The strategy is to distribute home, healthcare and welfare needs across the most unified and broad-based range of services. Applied to strategically chosen sites, this can expand or contract in accordance with what is required at the time. Each location is intertwined with an existing public facility, the intention being to stimulate normalization and reverse integration. One such location was chosen for working up in detail. Here, the home and healthcare needs arising from the immediate surroundings are hitched in a growth scenario to an existing library. This is intended as a serious step towards a dementia-friendly society.
The translation into spatial terms, certainly with this mix of functions, is caught up in a constant dialogue with the residents about freedom or restrictions on freedom, the need for social contact or isolation and the ability or inability to get one’s bearings in time and space. Drawing its logic from resident experiences and perceptions, the project, in a reflection of the illness in question, cuts haphazardly yet deliberately through the existing systems. This is not about making a statement, but to show that architecture can play a key role in bridging the gap in both directions between the system and individual needs.