Bruggwiesen Old People’s Centre, Effretikon, Switzerland
Zach + Zünd Architects
Greater sense of family in old-people’s centre
Anyone who has ever had to visit their beloved granny in a traditional old people’s home after spending decades of cosy indulgence on her kitchen corner seat will be able to realise what “home” means, or often still does today at least. Tiny rooms, anonymous, beige-coloured communal dining rooms, faceless hallways, and staircases that send old people’s sense of direction haywire … This was precisely what the two architects Gundula Zach and Corinne Zumstein from the Zach + Zünd practice in Zurich were intent on avoiding in their blueprints. For years they had been filing away at concepts designed to make life in “old people’s centres” more homely, friendly and enjoyable. They particularly wanted, wherever possible, to do without the endless hospital-like corridors long so typical of such institutions.
The operation to expand the Bruggwiesen old people’s home in Effretikon into an old-people’s centre saw their research take practical shape as a cluster-type entity. “Nursing and dwelling facilities are arranged as a cluster of compact buildings around a garden courtyard with a view to diminishing the centre’s perceived size by means of a small-scale residential environment and creating a familiar-seeming, spatially delimited courtyard ensemble in rural surroundings. ” Flats for differing groups of residents with private spaces and communal kitchens complete with dining areas and living rooms for nine persons are designed to establish a sense of continuity with the occupants’ previous way of life in their own homes. Spacious terraces draw the surrounding greenery inside. The overall feeling is more reminiscent of a house community, or perhaps even of life within a family. Yet it goes without saying that all the care and services generally associated with an old people’s centre are provided here, too.
The residential units can be surveillanced from ward rooms, moreover, thus engendering a sense of security amongst residents – or their relatives – notwithstanding the self-sufficiency they enjoy. All areas within the block are laid out in as vibrant a manner as possible and, as planned, without long corridors. The residential groups are connected by a communal staircase. The individual residential units face west and east, whilst each communal area runs from north to south. All spaces are amply served with natural light as a result and afford views out over either the surrounding park or an interior courtyard that forms the focal point of the communally used ground floor. The interior courtyard also serves to connect the existing building with its new counterpart. It ensures a good incidence of light as well as flexible spatial subdivisions. The architects planned the ground floor as a garden floor, a truly outstanding feature in an old people’s centre. A number of paths lead out into the area around from here.
Architects and building
Photo: Dominic Büttner
For years the two architects Gundula Zach and Corinne Zumstein from the Zach + Zünd practice in Zurich had been filing away at concepts designed to make life in “old people’s centres” more homely, friendly and enjoyable. They particularly wanted, wherever possible, to do without the endless hospital-like corridors long so typical of such institutions.
Sense of value at all levels
Similarly well-conceived is a separate, directly accessible garden terrace available to residents suffering from dementia, who live in groups on the first floor. It is to be hoped, then, that no one need feel insecure – or locked in either. The access zones in the building have been upgraded into communal residential areas of varying kinds for various uses. They are all generously glazed towards the outside. All in all, shape has been lent to an architecture in which residents can feel good due to the sense of value the interior spaces exude, something, after all, that invariably means the user of the architecture is likewise seen as being of value and taken seriously.
Features include timber floors extending as far as the balconies, an amount of timber-lining of walls, wooden furniture, exposed-concrete ceilings and columns, and recurrent splashes of colour on ceilings, walls and fitted furniture. Far from being worked up, the architecture is straight-ahead and modern - through the interplay of timber and concrete, for instance. Generously sized windows throughout admit plenty of light into the building – and elements of the outside world for those no longer in a position to go outside. These include a square-framed water pool outside the window that becomes a play of reflected light when the sun shines and provides a permanent view of one of our natural elixirs of life. How well handles can be gripped plays a crucial role in the lives of the elderly. It is not unusual for looks to be given short shrift where special practical requirements are concerned.
The architects opted for grabrails from FSB’s ErgoSystem® E300 range, fittings that, as well as providing support and being easy to grip, also look good, as evidenced by numerous design prizes (including the red dot design award 2008). The operators of the Bruggwiesen Old People’s Centre were particularly impressed by the ergonomics of the grip’s diagonal-oval cross-section, the architects more specifically by the grabrail system’s sobriety and visual appeal. Fitted in satin matt stainless steel in this case, the ErgoSystem® hardware discreetly subordinates itself to its host architecture. The aspiration shared by client and architects alike to create a building in which old people can really feel good – and also have the pleasure of being able to welcome visitors to their new “home” – is similarly reflected in interior design details such as these grabrails.
Photos: Heinrich Helfenstein, Zürich