Nov 14, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

Psychiatric hospital demonstrates the healing power of good architecture

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Architectural journalist Gideon Sykes discusses the new Danish psychiatric hospital at Slagelse and the important part played in the healing process by great interior design, plus the effects of lighting and good acoustics on health and recovery.


The very detailed planning process for this western Danish psychiatric regional hospital in Slagelse was characterised by innovation and a desire to construct a first class complex which supports patient care and recovery. The hospital was inaugurated in 2015, designed by Karlsson architecture practice, which won first prize in a major competition some years ago.

The 44,000m² project is the largest psychiatry construction in recent times, with space for 190 patients divided into general psychiatry, forensic and secure sections. Also included are outpatient departments, emergency wards, sports and swimming facilities and a knowledge centre for research and teaching.

The fundamental ideas of the architects included: Healing architecture and ‘recovery’ principles; Transparency and proximity between people and functions; General quality and flexibility in the various rooms and areas; Hierarchy of spaciousness and different stimuli.

Healing concepts

Consequently they conducted an innovative process to optimise natural lighting, strength, out-in-relationships, clarity and transparency, a pioneering ‘healing’ LED lighting, great acoustics, textural materials, art, colour scheme, poetry and much more in a cycle of extensive user cooperation.

In other words, although simplicity pervades the complex it is strongly coupled with the recognition that architecture which aids healing for patients is based on classic ingredients such as light and shade, quietness, materials, colours and green landscape elements. However, simplicity is not just about architectural minimalism; it is also about ingenious architectural solutions which result in a calming layout and the creation of engaging spaces with a high degree of transparency.

The varied textured finishes of the materials establish an engaging feeling, while the colours carefully chosen successfully enhance and interest the human senses. The building has been pre-certified by the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB), attaining the Silver level.

The social lives of the patients and physical activities have also been key focus areas. Hence the reason why lighting is used as a therapeutic tool in a modern and interesting combination of daylight and controlled artificial lighting. Particularly dramatic is the central core with its large spiral staircases and the very big skylight which plunges daylight from the fourth floor to the ground.

A significant part of the treatment for a number of psychiatric patients is the maintenance of social skills and ordinary daily chores, together with sport and movement activities which increase the individual’s self-perception and physics. Access to garden space from both patient section and common areas was therefore an essential element so each outdoor space creates an interesting diversion and complements the whole complex.

The project also includes a number of sports facilities, including two sports halls, swimming and similar outdoor sports. Everywhere there is a focus on safety and transparency for both patients and staff, ensuring constant use of the facilities.

Also at night there is a focus on atmosphere and experience as lighting indoor and outdoor using LED with a sophisticated colour management follows the year and time of day. New LED light fittings are neatly incorporated into the ceiling surface while about half of the hospital has been fitted with Troldtekt ventilation with natural ventilation in the rest. A number of studies have shown that all this supports good treatment and reduces discomfort in working at night.

The sound of silence

The materials which the architects chose are solid and familiar, such as brick, wood, concrete and cement-bonded wood wool ceiling panels. Installation of these Troldtekt ceiling panels throughout most of the complex ensures reduction of noise and reverberation of echoes, resulting in quiet and pleasant acoustics as well as a healthy indoor climate. In our noisy world, the ‘sound of silence’ is increasingly important in so many different types of building.

Obviously, the absorption of noise is particularly important in rooms with hard surfaces, such as sports halls and swimming pools, but also in schools and public places such as hospitals. American research for example showed that some children and staff from noisy schools had higher blood pressure, less cognitive task success and greater feelings of helplessness. This equally applies to the atmosphere in hospitals and particularly with very sensitive patients, such as the psychiatric ones in Slagelse.

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