A lat relationship in Limburg

Around 1900, it was standard practice to keep ‘lunatics’ and ‘idiots’ (as psychiatric patients and the intellectually handicapped were then referred to) in large buildings in ‘natural’ surroundings. Typically, such complexes were set up as special country estates, with rich park layouts and ensembles of pavilions in a landscape setting. The symmetric arrangement of the buildings was intended to promote tranquility, order and oversight. The Vincent van Gogh Psychiatric Institute, Venray, was erected in 1907 by the Ghent-based catholic religious institute, the Brothers of Charity, as a secure mental institution for men. Originally located on a piece of land outside the city, the institute’s terrain has now entirely been incorporated into the urban fabric. From the 1960s onwards, the clarity of the terrain’s physical arrangement gradually diminished, due to the necessity to adapt to changes in the field of psychiatry.

The patient came to be regarded as an individual and a fully-fledged part of society – a development that called for entirely different buildings and functions. Today, yet another shift can be observed: rather than placing patients in society, society is being brought to the terrains of such old mental institutions – such ‘reversed integration’ is indeed essential to the continued existence of these large complexes.

Before the backdrop of such considerations, 370 owner-occupied homes and residential care units are to be built on the terrain of the Vincent van Gogh Institute, for which Bureau B+B created both the urban design and the design for the public space. Rather than the far-reaching integration of living and care that the institute’s directors originally had in mind, the firm proposed an arrangement that makes contact between these two groups possible, but does not force it on anyone, this based on the realization that the concept of reversed integration is still new and relatively untried. B+B’s urban design differentiates between an inner court and a forecourt. All of the new hospital pavilions to be built are clustered on the square, tree-lined inner courtyard, in such a manner as to conform to the original symmetry and enclave structure of the terrain. The proposed design for the new pavilions is understated – a maximum of two levels, an orthogonal structure, interior walls of wood and exterior walls of purple-brown stuffing-press brick – resulting in a more organic approach to the remaining historic structures. The new buildings are designed by the Greiner Van Goor Huijten firm of architects. Parking facilities for the new buildings has been placed underground. Each pavilion has its own thematic garden, specially attuned to the residents’ illnesses, for example a vibrant garden with an aviary or a tranquil rose garden, depending on the situation. A garden with basalt pedestals serves as a place for residents to exhibit their art work.

Socializing can take place in the forecourt. The publically accessible, well-shaded park strip consists of an informal active portion, with an amphitheatre, play terminal, children’s farm and grass plot, and a formal, passive portion, with a pond and arboretum. To maintain unity on the green ground level, rather than using partition walls or fences, differences in level have been employed to distinguish between different zones of use. Play has also been integrated with the grass surface: an elongated earthen wall, or ‘land snake’, appears to creep out of the turf. The forecourt is separated from the city by built-up urban rims with mansions, apartment buildings and villas, for which B+B also drew up visual quality proposals.

Pictures: John Lewis Marshall

  • Location: Den Herk, Venray, Netherlands
  • constructed: 2003-2008
  • Client: Vincent van Gogh Instituut (GGZ-groep Noord en Midden Limburg)
  • Area: 28 ha
  • Partners: (Nederlands) Loos van Vliet, Greiner van Goor Huijten Architecten BV