A concrete parallelepiped with walls softened by the work of an artist

A concrete parallelepiped with walls softened by the work of an artist, the Epilepsy Residential Care Home of Dommartin-lès-Toul (Meurthe-et-Moselle) is an innovative program dedicated to the treatment and support of people suffering from epilepsy. atelier Martel’s architects have placed the daily life and the “at home” feeling at the heart of their concerns, outside the more conventional medico-social structures. The economic constraints governing the construction have prompted the architects to focus on essentials. The site, set between pastures and business parks, imposes to develop a meaningful and visible project, a “strong shape”, capable of existing within the immense landscape. With its square floor plan of 60 meters per side, the simple volume matches the context, thus creating an object without front or back. If its shape and dimensions may rise concerns, the use of regular openings refers to the habitat. Its smooth “skin”, almost snowy, absorbs each ray of sunshine and underlines the presence of the building in its environment.

The ground floor building is designed following a functional floorplan conceived to minimize the distances caregivers have to cover. It structures the living units rationally and furthermore allows the residents, whose falls are taken in consideration by the absence of stairs, to walk around and meet one another in the corridors. The four patios break the square plan and structure this “inner world”. Their dimensions, orientation and atmosphere all contribute to a better identification of spaces and the range of practices they can host. Conceived to offer a space distribution without dead ends, but with streets, places and residential areas, the Home refers to Alberti’s metaphor where “the city is built like a large house and the house is, in turn, like a small city”.

Fluidity and the presence of natural light in all the corridors set a subtle dialectic between protection and opening. The indoor and outdoor spaces, based on a cloister’s model, are protected while directly relating to the landscape and the surrounding nature (fields, monuments and mountains in the background). The walls’ thickness, underlined by ribbed concrete walls cast on site and cut-out window frames, suggests a heightened and reassuring feeling of protection. Considerable attention has been given to details by using high-quality simple and raw materials: windows and shades are made of wood and the floors are covered with soft materials to reduce injuries in case of falls.

The Atelier Martel has invited artist Mayanna von Ledebur to participate in the very early phase of conception. In doing so the architects and the artist’s work and the one of the artist blend, serving the building. The work of the American artist focuses on the meaning of the building devoted to epilepsy and the way to have it exist without stigmatizing the disease or the patients. Her intervention on the façade, the development of the matrix allowing to engrave the concrete cast on site is a free interpretation of the inscriptions on the Mesopotamian steles, first reference to epilepsy in written history. The rough concrete, common material whose architectural expression refers to hardness is enhanced and offers in this case new sensorial experiences, hence becoming sensual, tactile, round and soft. In this work focusing both on the idea as well as the touch and the perception, the almost “lunar” concave expressions become, depending on the light, something of a trompe l’oeil.

The artistic collaboration continues on the inside of the building, with a focus on tracking, allowing the occupants, weakened by their seizures, to find their way without using the hospital signs. A long fresco of 100 square meters, cut into panels and made out of coloured wool tapestry lives up the corridors. Placed at the ends of the exterior gardens, it represents light rooms, materializing the living units of the residents. Its pattern, interpreting a photograph of a cloud taken 6 000 meters above the centre, completed by hand drawn forms, allows the users to find their way with their heads in the clouds.

 

 

 

 

 

Design and info © atelier Martel

Images © Mayanna von Ledebur

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