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The Belle Vue centre for Dementia Care

Part 2 Project 2008
Sarah Gilby
Manchester School of Architecture Manchester UK
Advances in medical science that prolong our lives also increase our risk of developing diseases that limit our mental capacity. Fear and ignorance of issues such as dementia provoke the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding degenerative mental health. We need to confront our relative ignorance of these diseases and act to diagnose, care and treat them. A project to design a centre for dementia care developed from involvement with the ‘Valuing Older People’ Group in Manchester challenging perspectives; whilst contact with people affected by dementia enabled real life challenges to be addressed.

Specifically designing for the person with dementia, the project attempts to blur the boundaries between institutional realities and sense and non-sense. The proposed site lies amongst the former Belle Vue Zoological gardens, a rich historical tapestry of lakes, gardens and amusements. Public gardens celebrate memories whilst historic wandering paths shape and connect the fragmented site, offering an infinite variety of activities, real and imagined, encouraging interaction and triggering sensory memory. Semi-external structures for therapy and staff training lie hidden amid private gardens, providing intrigue and informing the public. Moving mechanical elements and wooden structures, resembling old fairground attractions, provoke distant memories: mirror halls, light and hallucinations create confusing effects, nostalgia for forgotten funfairs.

Through collective physical experiences, residents live a sense of normality whilst members of staff may experience and interpret the confusion of reality in the eyes and minds of those they care for. Residential care aims to work with the needs of the individual, creating a flagship for dementia treatment in the North West. Care is offered at different stages from individual homes to full communal care, fostering the idea of familiar neighbourhood environments. The main building and housing incorporate current guidelines, reflecting extensive research into best practice. Hidden passages bring elements of childhood fantasy and create stimulating environments for the residents, moving away from the conventional care home. Traditional forms and materials are used, thoughtfully creating a sustainable environment of comfort and care. The scheme sensitively addresses not only today’s needs but also provides inspiration for and accommodates the requirements of tomorrow.

Sarah Gilby


Only in the last year the UK government extended coverage of the Human Rights act to older people in care-homes , tacit recognition of an increasingly important issue for our society and just how far it is from being equitable or “ageless”. With over 600 million people over 60 worldwide and a 50% rise in dementia cases expected by 2020, this issue questions the limits of sense and the very definition of a humanity deserving of rights.
The project challenges institutional approaches to dementia, subverting both the external public/private territories of care, and the internal staff-patient hierarchies of the institution, whilst meticulously meeting the myriad requirements of legislation.
The site arrangement is a careful reconsideration of best practice read against Michel Foucault’s history of madness and institutional care. The domestic environments oscillate between the familiarities and anonymity demanded by the occupants hyper-sensitivity to contrast, reflection and change, simultaneously re-considering these “clinical facts” by potentially placing public, staff and patients in ambiguous relationship - questioning their part in the determination of the “demented”.
The staff and patients are involved in an experiment of stimulation, a coming together and blurring of sense and non-sense in an alternative “Alice- in-wonderland” dimension, entered through mirrors, wardrobes, lofts and basements. This dimension occupies the space between the staff and the demented and between the sensible-sane of the public and the insanity of the institution.
The historical situation of Belle Vue Zoological gardens, a definitive reference memory of the current older generation of Manchester, is an affective aesthetic resonance for connecting structures interloping through a new park.
The endurance of memory is at once internally central- in the memory-theatre treatment-space where the patients’ memories are stored - and externally distributed - the “memory gardens” integrate the institution with the local environment problematising (with the necessary banality of stealth) a more general status of sense and non-sense.
Treading a fascinating balance between a stoic, pragmatic, realism and a determined, delicate and fantastical dimension, this project poses the problem of dementia care for architecture - eruditely, directly and without falling into parody, patronage or simplistic utopias.

Tutor(s)

Prof David Dernie
Mr stefan white
2008
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