A residential care home for 105 elderly residents has been constructed on a park-like plot in the immediate vicinity of the Andritzbach brook in Graz. The passive house has no basement due to the challenging ground conditions and because of its location within the Andritz flood zone. It is a composite construction and features controlled domestic ventilation. Load-bearing ceilings and walls are made of concrete while all other structural elements are wooden. The prefabricate facade elements are extending across two rooms, their size is determined by the maximum dimensions suitable for transport.
The two-storey building consists of four wings arranged around a semi-public village square, designed to host various events. This is also the location of the roofed vestibule, the central nurses’ station, an oratory, a cafe, a hairdresser and an open atrium. Three residential areas on the ground and four on the top floor host one career and 15 residents each, primarily in single rooms, thereby creating a manageable and friendly atmosphere. Additional living areas are a large common area for each residential group, wide loggias with gardens (some are suitable for dementia patients) and atrium with tower galleries on the top floor. Special attention has been paid to ensure sufficient natural light for the entire building. Nurses’ stations and secondary rooms are always nearby, making work processes highly efficient.
Shorter and longer walks around the building with quiet zones ensure diverse free movement opportunities, even outside set therapy sessions. The green open space was designed with the typology of the care home and is based on a sequence of gardens. The gardens also form the passage into the park bordered by the Andritzbach to the east. A particularly attractive space for recreation has been created by designing a wooden platform that generates a familiar atmosphere.
Subtle layers of sociable space
The site of the Erika Horn Residential Care Facility is located on an area on the outskirts of Graz amidst a charming natural environment, with plenty of fresh air streaming down from the Schöckl Mountain.
The compact looking two-storey building, whose structure is almost all of solid wood (reinforced concrete bulkheads were required between the rooms), conveys a sober impression that begins to dissipate somewhat in the entrance area. Here, the building opens up and the clearly structured facade of its outer shell gives way to a versatile transitional space that mediates between the inside and outside. Dietger Wissounig likes to compare the principle of the complex to a four-leafed clover: the access area at the end of its stalk leads into a public walkway, which runs through the building. At the centre of the building, the walkway expands into a kind of ‘village square’, which, as a single storey structural element, forms an atrium on the first floor. From there, light domes the entrance area on the ground floor with additional daylight. The name is the concept; the space’s size and design make it an ideal venue for various different events. Care residents have the opportunity to leave their sheltered residential groups, live in a public sphere and socialise on a different level.
The seven residential groups, including an additional area for administrative work, technical and supply services, are divided into four building volumes and stacked two by two – arranged around a central zone. These four wings and their intermediate spaces form the access area in the west, a sheltered dementia garden in the south, a vineyard leading to the park in the east and a further garden in the north. Each of these four volumes provides various recesses framing additionally sheltered outdoor areas. A certain symmetry is prevalent in the building’s conceptual design, but after undertaking minor adjustments, modifications and slight shifts, this merely exists in the basic concept, and only remains perceptible in the zone between the residential groups. Shifting the atriums of two of the volumes towards the facade establishes a spatial connection to the outside, thus creating a quite different atmosphere from that of the two inner atriums. Small loggias, terraces and bridges contribute great additional residential value to the outdoor leisure areas. That is also the project’s biggest asset: outdoor space interweaves with the building and its interior spaces. Re-emerging views through and out of the building generate a constant low of new perspectives on interior and exterior room layers. These spaces are defined distinctly without drawing a borderline. It is like walking through a sequence of dissolution. Initially, walls and a ceiling delimit the space, then the walls become more permeable, the ceiling dissolves, and next, slender balustrades still offer support until views to the sky open up, or you step into the garden where nature envelops you.
According to Head of Care Martina Pojer, such intuitive and sensitive transitions foster the residents’ mobilisation as well, thus hugely enhancing their well-being. Residential care facilities aim to provide homely accommodation that encourages residents to become more independent, while at the same time offering the best possible care in a profoundly functional house. This nursing home of the fourth generation combines those objectives with the technical requirements of a passive house, leaving the impression that these functional requirements are mutual prerequisites that come naturally. That is thanks to the architect’s experience and meanwhile tested order and function concepts, but also to the good
and intensive development co-operation with the operators.
One important principle guiding the design of the house, especially the selection of materials and details, was to maintain ‘normality’. By providing distinctly connoted elements that people are accustomed to and an atmosphere that is characterised by wooden furnishings and clear contrasts, it was endeavoured to help residents feel at ease in their new environment. Broader doors, for example, which are a standard requirement in care homes, were split into double-wing doors to create the impression of a door with normal dimensions. Similarly, the balustrades of the loggias and terraces were kept intentionally basic, just as the wooden lamellas in
front of the windows overlooking the atrium were toned down to blend into the overall concept. Truly marvellous, if ‘normal’ means
- Evelyn Temmel