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Project Journal: Bereavement Centre Concept
I wrote my last project journal two years ago during my first year at university. A lot of undocumented work has followed since then, as I am now completing the final project of my whole degree. The main reason behind the lack of Project Journal posts has been due to the requirement for a design report in my university work. They contain a lot of similar information to the posts, however are more illustrative and in depth.

Since I am approximately halfway through this project and had my interim review yesterday, I feel that my ideas are now developed enough to let loose to you and the world. The design will no doubt change a lot by final hand in, so it will be interesting to revisit it in two months time and see how it has grown.
The brief for this project is live, meaning it is for a real building that will eventually be built. Unfortunately, as students we are unable to partake in the competition for the actual design, however we have had meetings with the clients and stakeholders and been assigned the same brief as the competing firms. The requested building is a bereavement centre near Alder Hey Children’s Hospital on the outskirts of Liverpool. Following construction of a brand new hospital in 2015 most of Alder Hey’s services moved into the new building. However, the Alder Centre, which provides counselling and support services for anyone who has been affected by the death of a child, was not given a new home. The non-NHS funded and almost entirely volunteer run service is now in desperate need of a new building that is fit for purpose. Through a LIBOR grant and fundraising they have collected enough money for a 310m² centre (about the same size as three average size family homes) which will contain an open plan social area, six counselling rooms, holistic therapy rooms, small secluded snugs and administration areas. Landscaping and sustainability is also a vital part of the project.

I could write many thousands of words about my process through this project, however for the purposes of maintaining interest I will only summarise the most important aspects of my ideas within this post.
My primary concept for the design is “A connection with Earth”. Grief is a very raw and primitive emotion that almost all humans throughout history have experienced. Alongside this, most humans also have an intrinsic relationship to nature. We enjoy spending time within it, it can lessen the sharpness of pain and even help people recover more quickly from illnesses. It is a gentle reminder of the cycle of life and death and that time, the greatest healer when grieving, always continues to pass. It can also act as a calm distraction when your mind is racing.
My thoughts around the concept led me to think about the four natural elements, and how I could interpret them architecturally. Fire and water are easy, as the former can be incorporated through a central fireplace and the latter with pools and channels which surround the centre. The idea for air came from a tutorial in which a tutor mentioned the Articulated Cloud by Ned Kahn. The building’s cladding system consists of free hanging plates which move when the wind blows across them, creating a shimmering, amorphous pattern on the facade. I am aiming to create a similar effect using timber shingles. Earth is also tricky, and not yet fully resolved. I may sink parts of the building below ground to expose the layers of earth and rock beneath. In the end this could prove too complex, so instead I might settle for architecturalising (this should definitely be a word) the ground by making natural elements from manufactured materials. I later decided to include light as a fifth element due to its emotive potential and importance in architecture. I will manipulate light in different spaces to create light, airy, open areas and more dark, secluded spaces.
The form of my scheme and the building itself is not yet significantly developed, and the feedback during my critique was negative regarding the complexity of the plan so it is likely to change a lot. My aesthetic basis is the idea of a clearing in a forest, which was my response to the huge site that we have been given to masterplan. Whilst the building has a footprint of 310m², the site area is approximately 14,000m², so there is a lot of empty space to fill. The site is perhaps the most complicated and ambiguous part of the project as it does not yet exist. It is hard to explain succinctly, but essentially the old hospital which is now almost completely derelict is to be demolished, and the space which it occupied will hold a park, some residential and office buildings and the Alder Centre. The site sits adjacent to the park, so I am proposing the planting of a woodland within which the Alder Centre will sit. This brings a number of benefits relating to privacy, sound insulation, and shielding of certain views, and ties my concept to the wider site.
The image of a small fire in a forest clearing with a few tents pitched around its edge is very evocative. I would like to capture the atmosphere of such a situation within my own scheme to create a sense of safety, comfort, community and being in balance both mentally and with the surrounding environment. Tents are too temporary and uncomfortable to use, so I have centred my development around huts. The primitive hut is a key piece of architectural theory first outlined by Marc-Antoine Laugier in 1753, which defines the source of all architecture as a primitive hut, consisting of posts, beams and a roof. Through my design I will try to put my own contemporary spin on this theory with modern materials and manipulating how a post, beam and roof can look and act.

So this is where I am up to at this point. I am currently undertaking what I always find to be the most challenging and frustrating part of a project which is space planning, arranging the different rooms and areas within and around the building so they suit the user routes, concept, environmental conditions, material constraints and aesthetic desires. I am definitely enjoying this project more than the last (read about that one here), and am positive about the outcome I will be able to produce in the next two months. As always, architecture is proving to be a hugely complex yet utterly rewarding challenge.