Real Architectural Solutions For Health Care In Dutch Neighbourhoods

We care a lot! How about you?

Humanitas, a nursing home in Deventer, the Netherlands, accepts local students to live in their home for free, under one condition: the group of students must spent 30 hours each month with (some of) the 160 senior residents. The project aims to create positive social interactions, beneficial to all inhabitants of Humanitas, both students and elderly. By doing this, Humanitas intends to improve the liveability and ‘community feeling’ of the residents of the nursing home and neighbourhood. According to Humanitas managing director, Gea Sijpkes, ‘students bring the outside world in’.

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Today, a trend of decentralizing healthcare can be recognized. Budget cuts by the Dutch government have made it increasingly difficult to get a subsidised place, with the paradoxical consequence that some nursing homes are left with empty rooms. This current ‘emptying out of the care homes’, the closing down of medical centres, and the shift to providing healthcare at regular homes instead of moving people into care homes, creates lots of vacant real estate in the middle of our cities and communities. As a result also social functions are disappearing. This has an especially large impact on areas built in the years after World War 2, in which neighbourhoods where carefully planned around nursing homes and other social real-estate.

Much international attention was paid in the news about the young students moving into the nursing home in Deventer. Considering this a social solution, would it also be possible to come up with spatial solutions in order to redefine buildings and places left open because of the transformation of the healthcare system? How can a neighbourhood be intensified as a meeting place? And how can architectural design contribute to social integration and innovation between the young and old?

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The Chief Government Architect of the Netherlands (de Rijksbouwmeester) has asked Design as Politics to start a research and design project to explore the spatial dimensions of the changing health care system as part of his programme ‘Oog voor de buurt.’ We have involved some of our best students, the International New Town Institute and two talented young designers to conduct this research. Two locations have recently been selected as our case studies. In close collaboration with the involved municipalities, the health care organisations and other related insititutions we will look for option to find new ways to strengthen the relationship between the nursing house and the neighbourhood. The aim is to find solutions that can be applicable to other locations as well.

Read more about this project on the website of the Chief Government Architect (in Dutch):