This day care and respite centre was commissioned by the Alzheimer Society of Ireland to provide flexible short-term care for people suffering from Alzheimer's disease and offer a means of support for affected families. In the context of our ageing population, the commission gave Níall McLaughlin Architects an opportunity to engage with the challenges of designing appropriate spaces for those with dementia.
Our ability to place ourselves is at the core of all architecture. The research for the Alzheimer's Respite Centre considered the consequences of losing one's ability to situate oneself. We explored architecture as something we experience with body and memory, rather than as something we look at. In particular we were interested in addressing how our identity is bound up in the way we position ourselves in space, how dementia destroys our ability to orientate ourselves and how buildings might help those with dementia.
The Centre is situated within the existing walled garden of the adjacent convent. Arranged within this protected space is a series of interconnected pavilions incorporating social spaces, gardens and courtyards, through which patients may wander. Pathways naturally loop back on themselves, bringing a person back home again.
The knowledge base accumulated from this research project aimed to realize the particular building as well as a prototype for the building of other residential care homes for dementia in Ireland. We embraced the opportunity to engage with the challenges of designing appropriate spaces for those with dementia and responded as architects with a research-led approach. The main challenge in designing a care environment for those with Alzheimer's is to produce calm, coherent spaces that reduce enervating distraction, aid orientation and encourage mobility. Our aim was to respond to this challenge by reconstructing from first principles an architecture that places you back into the world, one that assumes that, at every moment, you are lost.
The Alzheimer's Respite Centre won a RIBA European Award (2009), the Royal Institute of the Irish Architects Award for the Best Health and Leisure Project (2010), and the Architectural Association of Ireland Special Award (2010).