05 Oct /// A LOOK AT: Victor Castro, the humanist architect
In November 2017, Batimat will be launching the first edition of Regard sur l’Architecture, a publication for the show’s exhibitors and visitors that will present exceptional projects with use at the heart of their design.
The Beaumont-sur-Oise psychiatric hospital, delivered in January 2010, is one of the projects featured. Interview with its architect, Victor Castro.
L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui: The Beaumont-sur-Oise psychiatric hospital is one of the projects featured in Regard sur l’Architecture. What do you think of Batimat’s editorial initiative?
Victor Castro: It’s excellent! Perceptions about architecture in general, and specifically hospital architecture will change thanks to players in the building sector raising awareness.
It’s surprising to see that doctors and healthcare professionals are amazed to discover that designers have specific solutions for hospital-related problems, despite the fact that we work for and with them.
They should be the ones demanding innovative tailored solutions that improve working conditions for medical staff and patients. This argument drives initiatives such as Regard sur l’Architecture with their educational content and role in communication.
Today’s society increasingly faces the challenge of striking a balance between growing budget constraints, and quality, reflected in the way human needs are taken into account in healthcare projects designed to stand the test of time.
In the current economic crisis, the simple short-term approach would be to let projects be driven solely by our institutions’ accounting factors, such as ratios, unrealistic construction costs and outdated spreadsheets used as references for defining surface areas and other project specifications.
In architecture, you need to ask the right question in order to find the right solution, and that’s a principle that we need to apply to all projects.
We can only hope that this kind of communication will raise awareness and help us work together to defend the interests of patients, users and healthcare professionals, and the humanistic nature of architecture.
L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui: For this specific project, what was the biggest challenge that you encountered and how did you resolve it?
Victor Castro: The hospital director gave us just one challenge, and that was to come up with innovative solutions that break from long-standing practices that stood in the way of a forward-looking approach.
Right from the start, beyond our combined knowledge and technical expertise, our work was guided by intuition, and then by exploring a sensitive approach towards vulnerable people living temporarily in places providing psychiatric care, like the Beaumont-sur-Oise hospital.
However we wanted to go beyond the boundaries of the specifications defined by the design-build competition in which we took part, which could have been architectural suicide. There aren’t many clients open to a holistic approach incorporating new ideas.
However we had to take the risk of rocking the boat with this project so that we could propose ideas with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of life and human focus for patients.
We established the basic principle that we would follow our intuition to pursue idealist yet attainable solutions. That’s how our functional hallways transformed to become places for relaxation and shared living spaces, how two-way traffic for logistics activities was taken outside of patient areas, how rounded and curved design, like a therapeutic instrument, became the focus, and how we came closer to a project rich with ideas.
Long discussions ensued as part of the bidding process to convince the contracting authorities that the changes made to the initial project were proposed in the interest of the patient-medical staff team.
I believe we met the challenge, in that the Beaumont-sur-Oise project was a turning point in our design process and we fulfilled the main objectives. When the contracting authorities toured the hospital over a year later, the chief physician underlined the importance of the sense of tranquillity felt in the building and the improved safety record – statistics showed that over a ten-year period there had been at least one violent incident per week.
For the first period in the hospital’s life, even with the same patients and medical staff, the new building has created a soothing atmosphere that is more peaceful and enjoyable for patients, resulting in better working conditions for staff. Since then there have been no violent incidents.
L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui: Your project illustrates an essential issue, that of adapting architecture so that it is appropriated by the users. How did you incorporate use issues into your project?
Victor Castro: I wouldn’t be so pretentious as to consider architecture as an essential factor in the patient treatment process, but I am convinced that the immediate environment of individuals in some way influences their perceptions, reactions, behaviour and the ties that can be developed between them and the surrounding space.
Providing patients with a space that equates as little as possible with aggression, trauma, anxiety and oppression can, at the very least, give them a sense of well-being that makes them feel better. The space can therefore be considered to directly or indirectly contribute to their treatment as a place that they can identify with and appropriate for themselves.
Architects can make savings in terms of staff energy, patient medicalisation and user safety, simply by reducing the number of spaces considered to be anxiety-inducing and by treating the space with a big dose of humanity to create a calming effect that contributes to patient therapy.
Therapeutic effects, working conditions and their social impact cannot be judged by their immediate results, but by what happens in the long term. The challenge is for the project to be validated in the long term and not just display certain performance characteristics on inauguration day.
Advances in technology and medicine will undoubtedly eliminate some pathologies but there will continue to be a need for active spaces that help soothe patients, and make them feel at home. It needs to be a safe, calming and quiet place that does not instil the fear of confrontation.
At a time where society is seeing incredible changes, whether it be scientific progress, or increased longevity and its consequences on integrating increasingly marginalised people into society, the role of architecture within a human organisation is to use sensitivity to help people in distress, thereby appeasing tensions in a society with complicated relationships between individuals.
I am convinced that society will change. It will become more and more aware of the benefits of architecture if education and communication is promoted. Humanism in architecture will surely draw patients closer to space and time.
Interview realized by “L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui” in August, 2017.
Batimat is a committed observer of major trends in the sector, and launched the Regard sur l’Architecture programme during the 2016 Biennale Architettura in Venice, based on a simple, yet essential question: Architects are visionaries, but what impact do their buildings have on residents and users? What is the fruit of the architect’s ultimate aim of improving our living conditions?
Regard sur l’Architecture is a 12-month field survey with those designing, constructing and living in new builds, providing new insight into a selection of recently developed unique buildings, which have been chosen for the quality of their “architectural solutions” to a given issue such as emergency, social or collaborative housing.
The findings from Regard sur l’Architecture will be published in November 2017 in a beautiful book and presented during a series of meetings with the contributors, organised by our partner L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, on the afternoon of Wednesday 8 November during the Batimat show.