Healthcare roadshow with DVA

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Improving design has to be sustainable and style has to have substance. That was certainly the message during Camira Fabrics collaboration with Dutch based DVA (Dementia Village Advisors), during the company’s first Healthcare Roadshow developed exclusively for UK based healthcare designers. 

Held at Camira’s showroom in Clerkenwell, London, the event featured speaker Michael Bol, architect from DVA, the practice made famous for their pioneering Dementia Village, De Hogeweyk, Amsterdam. 

De Hogeweyk broke the mould with a care home designed like a series of small houses in a village on one level, each with different designs and activities aligned to the previous ‘lifestyles’ of the residents within. Residents are free to walk around the village, in and out of the various buildings. There’s also a fully operating supermarket, restaurant and theatre, all within the secure compound.

Presenting a completely new concept to designers, Michael took centre stage to discuss small scale, as opposed to large scale thinking, and designing from a social and individual approach when it comes to dementia and nursing home design.

“Look at day to day life and create conditions for the residents so that they are challenged by incentives to remain active in daily, precious life.

“Our architecture aims to connect with the residents’ wishes. Their way of living is our starting point. The required features of the interior, the public spaces and the functions that are necessary from the outside are all designed to meet their needs.” Says Michael.

Medical solutions instead of social solutions are the norm in the UK but within De Hogeweyk the nursing home bands residents with shared interests and backgrounds so they can live together in a lifestyle-group. The design, decoration and surroundings of the home are then tailored to that specific lifestyle. 

People live with others in lifestyle groups with a maximum of seven people per group who all share similar interests and backgrounds. Residents recognise each other based on their activities, life experiences and interests. The interior becomes a link to how it used to be, a familiar living environment.

The residential area of De Hogeweyk consists of 160 residents in 23 houses where residents are provided with a complete experience appropriate for the collective memory of the residents. 

Architecture and design becomes an interface between interior and exterior space. Residents can move freely from their home via a front door to the outside within a protected environment. They can go outside, walk down a boulevard, play sport, eat out, buy food from a supermarket, and visit a pub – all within the protected perimeter of De Hogeweyk.

The overriding design focus is to enable freedom, a higher quality of life, happiness and self esteem by living as you usually would. 

Special attention is required for people with dementia but the thinking behind De Hogeweyk does not treat dementia as an illness with individuals requiring institutionalised care, but rather enabling care that focuses on human attention. 

“Care homes always seem to be warm, they have a specific smell, the lighting is false and everything is staged, timed and ordered, even mealtimes and lounge time. How often do you sit in large rooms with people you don’t know? In real life, it isn’t always warm, the lighting isn’t always unnatural, smells aren’t consistent, and you don’t transit from your home/room to go to a restaurant without going outside. 

“Normal aspects of life, such as making the decision to put a coat on because it’s raining outside, are never made because residents’ front doors don’t lead outside, instead corridors with outside facades are created to look like the outside. They’re being fooled, don’t create the illusion of outside, just create an outside environment!” Says Michael Bol.

We spoke to delegate, Jacqui Smith, director of specialist care home interior design company HomeSmiths about the De Hogeweyk concept and how this thinking relates to the future of design within care. 

“I always try and educate my clients about the benefits of good design. Vinyl and plain decor isn’t the solution but I can understand the need. It comes down to cost and time and just getting the job of caring done. However good design with well chosen finishes and an intelligent lighting scheme, can improve health and wellbeing by enabling individuals to be independent. Unfortunately too many care home environments are unwittingly enabling isolation and physical decline by not addressing these benefits.”

“At its essence The De Hogeweyk model puts enablement first. The social aspect and lifestyle groups are very important, freedom to move from one building to another, from indoors to outdoors without trepidation, it’s all enabled through design. 

“The future for design in care has to address community and commonalities between social groups and smaller spaces. Big sprawling institutions may be cost effective to build but they don’t enable people. Ultimately my wish is to be able to sit at the briefing table with care teams and architects right at the beginning to pose the question “what if?” 

Harriet Green, Camira’s Product Manager for Healthcare says: “It seems designers in care can inform and guide but more often than not have little freedom to affect such massive change especially in a business such as care where budgets are tight, regulations equally so, and the status quo often preferred. 

“Taking care of the elderly in an economically viable way will always be a focus in commercial business but the solution doesn’t have to compromise on quality. Choices like fabric can make a place a home, whether it’s the colour or how it feels, it’s familiar, it can conjure a memory, make you feel cosy or even safe. 

“Manufacturing fabrics for comfort, longevity, and the practical demands facing the care industry is our focus. Our Halcyon Collection of waterproof fabrics are so advanced that aside from being waterproof, stain repellent and flame retardant, they also offer protection from infection with germ proof anti-microbial properties, all the while still looking appealing and appearing normal.

"It’s clear there is much to learn from De Hogeweyk and its design principles. Improving design can be done but doesn’t have to be as radical as you think. Ultimately its about designing a complete picture where people feel connected and safe in comfortable surroundings where they can enjoy the precious life they were used to. The life they still want to lead."