Frankston's new AMA ward is a more usable and vibrant space for clients
The AMA is a specific ward within the mental health sector of Frankston Hospital where 'clients' are admitted for high-level care. This area requires clients to be monitored at all times. The centrally located and primary space for client occupation in the ward is the activities area.
Previously a dark, narrow corridor, it was opened up and expanded to create a more useable and vibrant space. Day-to-day activities for clients largely consist of watching TV and walking around. This mere act of walking around was elaborated to form the basis of the concept of this renovation project. The concept involved using the lines of a contour map to create paths of travel, encompassed by circular paths, merging seamlessly from internal to external areas.
Specific areas such as the central activities lounges and dining areas relate in parallel to 'high open points or peaks' of a mountainous range described through a contour map. A clearly defined visual linkage of line, materials, colour and programme work in conjunction with one another to form the overall space. A series of six bedrooms and a seclusion room branch from the central activities area, some serving a dual occupancy between low and high dependency departments, when additional rooms are required.
The project landscape is expressed both plano-metrically and three-dimensionally through curved recessed elements in the ceiling above, which play on lines within the floor finishes below. Selective joinery elements such as the TV unit, coffee machine and activity benches are embedded as a continuum within the landscape. An integral element of the project was the mural located in the external courtyard. The mural was conceived as a visual landscape or 'big window' to coherently coincide with the rest of the project.
The architectural language used in floor treatment lines and ceiling recesses was elaborated in order to integrate art and architecture. Surface (landscape) folds from the horizontal to vertical plane (wall), creating a continuity of the landscape. Embedded within the courtyard with the integration of thin vertical timber battens, the overall general scale and the scale of the formal language of the painting allows for multiple perceptions and environments of individual interpretation.
Art 'blackboard' walls both individually in bedrooms and in communal activities areas create opportunities for conversation and expression for clients. The staff base, consisting of staff workstations, meeting area, reception, drug storage, laundry and client interview rooms curves its way around the perimeter of the activities area creating an imperative, continuous visual of clients for staff in the form of a curved window.
Although the brief outlined the requirement of hardwearing vandal-proof materials and therefore limited the scope for possibilities, an interest was taken to engage with the more sensory aspects of selected materials and finishes. Items such as carpet, rubber and timber were strategically integrated to create a soft ambience. Similarly, colours were controlled in reference to research undertaken in colour psychology. Earthy colour tones were introduced in order to create a more relaxing environment for clients.
The project offers a re-thinking of the current condition of high-level mental health facilities within a localised context. After numerous site visits and extensive research in this very particular typology, it was perceived that these institutions typically manifest themselves as generic, clinical and 'depressing' compounds, rather than places of care and support.
Given this context the architectural response was to necessitate an introduction and exploration into the realm of sensory elements such as quality and volume of space, light and materiality. The investigation led to the identification of user individuality through breaking down the visual and physical barriers between the clinical realm and the notion of a 'home away from home' environment.
The outcome was therefore more in line with the residential context that exists in the wider context of the site. Collaborations of art and architecture presented avenues for the introduction of self-expressive elements such as art walls to further improve personable space and individualism that is often lost in a clinically embedded environment.
Given the nature of the facility the brief called for numerous anti-hanging, anti-destructible materials and generally an environment where one was not able to physically tear something off and harm themselves or others. The architects explored the possibilities of creating a transparency in relation to elements such as fixings of joinery, sanitary devises and loose furniture, without creating an obvious disguise and / or covering up.
This is achieved through direct and adjacent materiality and although these elements are visually present, they become a part of the overall landscape of the project.
The curved geometry of the space was explored to retain a constant, visual imperative to facilities of this kind. Early on in the project the architects evaluated the idea of disguising the staff base area, however it was realised after testing that it was in fact potentially more humanising to create a transparency through a constant visual connection between patients and staff at a constant, more personable eye level.
The internal client areas which are physically and securely separated have been designed to visually read as one continuous identity, bringing the two identities of staff and patients / clients more collectively together as a continuous whole and improving inter relationships rather than creating and conforming to the typically recognised 'two distinct' identities.