Rabot Community Health Centre
- VK Architects & Engineers
The Rabot neighbourhood in Ghent was once a thriving blue-collar district. Like many of its ilk, it has seen its sense of community dissipate in recent decades. In an effort to stop the rot, the notoriously run-down high-rises which came to symbolise its many ills were torn down; POLO Architects replaced them with strips of mid-rise residential blocks, interspersed with public greenery.
The Community Health Centre Rabot is located at the heart of the housing development, occupying the entire ground floor of one of the buildings. It sits along a newly created street that cuts right through the estate. At the end of this street the picturesque Rabot towers beckon. As one of the main thoroughfares intersecting the masterplan, this link is set to become one of the prime public spaces that inject live into the scheme.
In an area with considerable social issues and a very diverse population, a health centre provides a crucial service for the underprivileged. But since our desire for good health transcends social and cultural boundaries, we believe this centre could be as much about community-building as about healthcare. It should become a beacon of optimism that shines a new light on this neighbourhood in transition.
The new residential buildings have understated grey brick facades. Against this discreet backdrop the health centre announces itself with bright yellow solar blinds. They can extend horizontally and act as awnings, providing a colourful and joyous accent within the street. Away with the gloomy image of doctors and medical issues; this is a place where we celebrate our health and physical fitness.
This zest for life is carried through into the interior. We use warm colours and soothing greys instead of clinical whites. Natural timbers and textured materials aim to stimulate our senses.
Accessing the health centre from the street, the visitor passes through a lobby straight into a spacious waiting room. To our left we find the facilities for staff and administration — inaccessible to the general public. To the right are provisions for patients.
The consultation rooms are mostly south-facing. Here the facade is aligned with the street which runs at an angle to the orthogonal grid of the floor plan. In order to keep the rooms roughly the same size the internal corridor shifts halfway along its length. This idiosyncratic moment helps in differentiating the circulation from the typical endless uniformity of hospital corridors.
We like to think of this health centre as a little village. The corridors, oversized to comply with wheelchair access, are like streets; little “squares” provide resting spots or impromptu meeting places where corridors intersect or realign.
In the central zone of the patient section are the laboratory, intake and multipurpose consultation rooms. At the eastern end of the building is a large space for physical therapy exercises.
To the back of the building we find nurses’ stations and treatment rooms. They profit from views of private patios and filtered light, engendering a calm and more intimate atmosphere, away from the hustle and bustle of the waiting room and doctors’ offices.
No matter how soothing the designed surroundings, the possibility of conflict always exists in the context of a medical consultation. Hence the security of the staff has been foremost in our minds during the planning phase. Within consultation rooms doctors are seated close to the door and every zone within the centre has at least two means of escape. The administration wing and staff facilities can be completely separated from the visitors’ area. Employees have a separate back access to this part of the centre, with bicycle parking, canteen, changing rooms and private washrooms.
As part of the staff facilities there is also a large multipurpose space. Separated from the canteen and kitchen by a folding wall, it can be used for all kinds of events — for the staff or for the community at large.
In this way the Community Health Centre holds true to its name.
The health centre was previously accommodated in an old refurbished house. Over time this had been decorated in a quaint and homely manner. In close collaboration with doctors and staff our interior designers reinterpreted this cosy character in a contemporary way; we wanted to stay away from too clinical an atmosphere. This implied the use of warm colours and natural materials as well as art to “humanise” the space.
In the waiting room stands a large in-situ artwork. Participants from different cultural backgrounds helped artist Veerle Michiels conceive this piece. Small concrete casts of cushions are suspended from a curvy metal framework in the middle of the space. The hardness of the material and softness of the shape provide a striking contrast. It forms a meditative object for visitors who may be feeling apprehensive about their impending consultation. Simultaneously it acts as a privacy screen in the expansive space.
Dividing walls throughout the centre are constructed from spruce timber studs. This structure remains exposed in places, framing wall surfaces painted in a cardboard grey colour. The upper parts of the walls are glazed, bringing a sense of transparency and continuity across the space. This is further emphasised by the distinct red brick colour of parts of the grid ceiling.
Aesthetic concerns go hand in hand with comfort and practicality in our design. Maintenance-friendly vinyl with a speckled pattern covers the floors. Window treatments such as translucent films and vertical blinds provide privacy in street-facing rooms. Curtains made out of luxurious Kvadrat fabrics in soothing tones partition off treatment areas within the consultation rooms.
While custom-made furnishings accommodate proprietary medical cabinet fittings for reasons of functional efficiency, they adopt some unusual materials to subtly counter any clinical atmosphere. The reception counter is clad with cementboard panels — a sturdy material with an appealing matt surface texture. Some of the cabinetry is constructed out of a film-faced plywood that is usually utilised for concrete formwork. Coloured-through MDF is used for desks; its homogeneous nature ensures that the inevitable dents and scratches do not immediately show up. The desktops are finished in a natural linoleum, a warm material that brings a soothing tactility to the work proceedings at this vibrant Community Health Centre.