What should one expect from the design of a rehabilitation centre? Can design actually influence its workings? We observe the unique interaction between the two in the Groot Klimmendaal Rehabilitation Centre in the Netherlands, designed by Dutch architect Koen van Velsenhas.
The building has three storeys and is clad in brown anodised aluminium which helps it sync with the environment. With natural beauty all around the space, the architect has designed a structure such that it merges with the forest landscape that holds it in its embrace. The almost 14,000 square metre building cantilevers at places and yet naturally blends with its surroundings.
The program facilitates an abundance of natural light as huge windows permit substantial light to penetrate into its interiors. In fact, in some areas of the building the glass barriers between the outdoors and indoors seem almost non-existent.
The ground floor is double-heighted. At this heart of the building lie the sports facility, fitness area, swimming pool, restaurant and theatre. Along with patients and their families, members of the local community use these facilities regularly. Hence, the community plays a central role in the lives of the patients and also in the building. Along with being a centre for care, it allows the residents to participate in a number of different activities.
The philosophy behind the design is that for a patient’s wellbeing one needs a positive and stimulating environment. How can the design create such a scenario? Definitely not by making the structure look like a boring hospital building! This underlying philosophy is exemplified in the building’s subtle design plan.
The design of a rehabilitation centre should be open felt Koen van Velsenhas. A shallow wooden staircase connects all floors of the building while large and small light wells and voids visually connect spaces and allow natural light to wash the spaces within. All this contributes to an airy ambience. This inter-connectedness promotes a sense of wellbeing which is highly desired.
The meandering facade results in a building intertwined with trees. The welcome sight of the forest acts as a therapy in itself. The surrounding nature has a strong visual and tangible presence allowing the inhabitants to immerse themselves in its serenity. Full height glazing along the central space connecting the various different internal elements of the building ensures an almost seamless continuity between interior and exterior.
The interior atmosphere is enlivened. Along with the natural light streaming through, artificial lighting has been used to good effect to light up the interiors. The careful selection of colourful furniture also adds to the overall positive effect.
How does the building score on the sustainability scale? The use of energy is reduced by the compact design of the building and the design of the mechanical and electrical installations. Thermal storage, for both heat and cold contributes to the reduction of energy consumption.
It seems that ‘Groot Klimmendaal’ is part of a master plan. It is built with the end users in mind and yet the design allows for tremendous flexibility of use. There is a lot of transparency in the construction. The elements of layering and continuity, play of natural and artificial light and the magnificent experience of nature make this location truly unique and stimulating.
The project boasts of several awards. It was awarded Building of the Year 2010 by the Dutch Association of Architects, the Hedy d’Ancona Award 2010 for excellent healthcare architecture, Arnhem Heuvelink Award 2010 and winner Dutch Design Award 2010. It was also one of the six finalists for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award 2011, the highest European distinction.
At the World Architecture Festival in 2011, the jury rightly commended the project, saying “The jury welcomed it as a very thoughtful and beautiful building. Its relationship to the landscape and how it brings the forest inside was particularly commended, as was the openness of the facility to the local community. The project is exemplary in its achievement to show what good design and imagination can bring to the healing process.”