I was recently asked to write about design of the new Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne by Bates Smart and Billard Leece, and in particular, the connection between design and overall wellbeing. The brief really got me thinking about the impact of space on mood, morale and health.
It’s something we know and feel subconsciously. Dark, dimly lit rooms make us feel claustrophobic, maybe even depressed. Bright colours make us feel energised. Pale ones, quite the opposite. Plants, flowers and nature are uplifting and oxygenating, too much concrete, fluorescent lights and laminate floors are not . . .
In fact, the (much more scientific) cause-effect of the environment on our physical wellbeing is well documented in the form of Evidence Based Design, in which architecture can play a key role. Sadly, often the opposite proves true. Without sounding too dramatic, it appears that the majority of our built environment is the result of fast-track, money making schemes with scant regard for user experience and sustainable practise. (But that’s a particularly longstanding gripe, best left to another post.) Fortunately, there are architects, planners, developers and designers who help challenge the status quo.
The Royal Children’s Hospital is a classic example of this. It is a collaborative and design triumph that has had a tremendously positive impact on all its users, in particular, the children who have been known to request return visits! Surely that sentiment is the more valuable than the slew of architecture and planning awards the firms have garnered to date.
In fact, when taken to the extreme, architecture has the power to save lives. Programmes like Habitat for Humanity, a worldwide initiative that serves disater-struck and third world countries, have demonstrated what can be achieved through clever, efficient and practical design and collaboration.
So, a few months ago, I was thrilled to discover, that one of my favourite local architects, Shaun Carter of carterwilliamson, was in the process of developing a relief shelter prototype right here in Sydney. (I first met Shaun when I wrote about this clever house for Houses Magazine.) After the 2004 tsunami, Shaun was struck by the lack of immediate shelter available to those in desperate need. He started working on the design of a simple, moveable structure, a kit of parts, that could easily assembled, replicated and located in varying terrains around the world.
More about Shaun’s vision, in his own words:
In a world increasingly challenged by man-made and natural disasters, we as architects have applied our skills and experience to the development of a sustainable housing prototype which can be readily and cheaply transported to diverse and remote locations. It can be assembled quickly and applied to many diverse purposes, however, the shelter has been specifically designed for easy transport and assembly in remote areas.
A few weeks ago, I joined Shaun and team members Lindsay and Linda, on a site visit to Nowra, where the first prototype is being made. On the trip down, we talked about the genesis of the project, how it has evolved and Shaun’s visions for the future of the project. (I have to interject here and also mention our recreational stop at Berry Sourdough Cafe – one of my all time favourites. Sydney-siders, this is a must if you find yourself meandering down the South Coast.)
In Nowra, we met up with Kim, from Go-Steel, a manufacturer and supplier of steel framing products used in both residential and commercial developments. A calm and collected operator (we’d all like to work with builders like Kim more often), it was clear that he was as excited about the project as the rest of the team. Kim took us through the construction thus far and it was so exciting to see the (almost complete) physical manifestation of the team’s drawings, models and ideas.
The shelter is made from corrugated sheeting externally, ply internally (kindly sponsored by The Laminex Group), an mezzanine sleeping deck, openable flip-up window shutters and is suspended off the floor via flexible pilotis. It is also designed to have solar panels and water tanks, reflecting Shaun’s intention to connect the shelter to available services. Because this is the first prototype, the team are already thinking about changes to future models, which will make it a leaner construct – financially, structurally and practically.
*But wait, there’s more**
As part of this year’s Sydney Architecture Festival, carterwilliamson will be exhibiting the prototype in Martin Place, right in the heart of the city. The Shelter will be delivered (flat pack!) by truck to site. It will then be constructed in-situ, simulating a real-life response situation. Visitors can watch the construction on Sunday the 28th and then visit the shelter on Monday the 29th of October.
Finally, I must mention that Shaun was recently announced as one of the four 2012 Byera Hadley Travelling Scholarship recipients. The aim of Shaun’s project is to contribute to the re-establishment of communities after the devastation of disaster, by gathering information to help improve the design and implementation of his emergency shelter. The scholarship will see him travel to several natural disaster sites across the world, conducting site analysis and interviews.
Shaun and team – thank you for allowing me the opportunity to be a little, little part of this worthy and ground-breaking project. I can’t wait to see it LIVE in ten days!