(3. finalist: PC Caritas)
Somewhere between a closed building and open space, an old psychiatric hospital pavilion has been partially saved from demolition to offer a peaceful refuge for patients, their families, and people walking in the public park surrounding it.
dVVT’s suggestions were simple, and took as their basis a contrast between the context of the obsolete ruin and the highly developed programme of the more contemporary buildings on the site. “Everything is very organised, everything is very decided, there is no square metre that is not known,” says De Vylder of the modern buildings that appear without a meaningful relationship to their surroundings.
Given that the pavilion was already open to the elements, the suggestion was to do enough work to creatively stabilise the structure to prevent further deterioration, while introducing useful spaces for loosely defined activities, clinical or not, to take place.
This allowed for clear examples of the aleatoric gestures that find their way into many of dVVT’s projects, where errors or surprises on site become the source of new and intriguing elements of their projects. This as-found ruination is often exploited by architects but the dVVT ruin-work here is more detached, and allows for what might be a crucially open-ended process of interpretation of the structure.
For example, one might be tempted to make a connection between the damage and healing that has happened to the building, and that of the patients – and indeed this is a metaphor occasionally used by the doctors at the hospital. ‘I would say that this was not really the symbolism we wanted to give to what we do,’ admits de Vylder, ‘but this is the outcome of how the building has been perceived or appreciated or valued by people … it’s about giving the possibility to introduce imagination as a way of understanding.”
The openness to unplanned activity here extends to an openness to continuing work on the project, potentially also encompassing other disused buildings on the site, and a commitment to a certain experimental methodology that is never easily achieved, but here seems like an organic part of the process.
It’s true that there’s something slightly frivolous or whimsical about the project at first encounter, with the reasoning behind the various ambiguities of use, space and aesthetic difficult to discern. But the project is not extravagant, and for a cost not far above the costs of completely demolishing the original pavilion, the hospital has a stimulating and quite beautiful environment that is theirs to use as they see fit.
The client set three different objectives for Architecten de Vylder Vinck Taillieu:
- First of all, to strengthen the relationship between the building and its setting, in particular the natural setting. The result was achieved by the creation of a white loggia on the main façade of the Sint-Jozef, which acts as an element of mediation between the architecture and its park and recalls the loggias present in the original buildings.
- Secondly, to respect for the original structure. The architects thus provided for eliminating all the superfluous elements, taking the building back to its original raw forms, repairing, rather than renovating, the parts where the material had been removed and leaving visible these points of “repair”. Inside the structure thus cleared out, volumes in clear glass were introduced which in form and materials recall actual greenhouses. These transparent volumes are used as new rooms of the building distributed on its three floors.
- Responding therefore to the third point requested by the client, the new building appears as an open and legible doll house, easily modifiable over time, a project in continuous evolution and in line with the therapeutic intents for which it will be used.
For the 2018 Venice Biennale, dVVT exhibited the Caritas project, and won the Silver Lion, which is in itself is in a state of flux and subject to alteration and redevelopment over time. The timber used in Venice will go back to Caritas and be used to make further repairs to the floors of the building, and there are plans to relocate greenhouses to give more internal space, and even create a small café within the shell.