Building design for mental wellbeing: Aviary House

May 12th, 2016 by Becky Wright, Delivery Manager, Enterprise and Development, Home Group in Features

Woman standing in her kitchen

Mental wellbeing in supported housing is reliant on excellent care and support, and clean, secure accommodation. However, the layout and design of the building also plays a significant role in the wellbeing of its residents.

Aviary House is a Home Group mental health service, in partnership with Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council – and an excellent example of the impact that building design has on mental health.

The scheme replaced a registered care home that was located within five miles of the new site and was not deemed fit for purpose. Within that home, all sixteen clients shared main facilities and therefore had all their cooking and shopping done for them, at set times throughout the day. This environment did little to promote wellbeing and potential future independence.

The primary aim of Aviary House was to address this need - and it is succeeding. Clients are now getting out and about more, doing their own shopping and cooking their own meals. Some now attend the gym and have taken up college courses – proactively managing their own health and skills development. This is a stark contrast to life in the former residential home.

The design of the building and its location carefully considered these possibilities. Aviary House was designed around two blocks with functional and formal integral courtyard gardens. The main building is L shaped and three storeys, providing 16 one bed apartments (short – medium stays and respite). The second block, set back on the site provides eight one-bed apartments for long term residents, which have been designed to foster greater independence.      

The location was carefully chosen ensuring it had amenities, facilities and transport links which would promote greater independence, health and wellbeing.  There are adjacent shops, a GP surgery and a library all located on a bus route providing access to the main city and local towns.

The apartments provide clients with their own independent living spaces and easy access to outdoor social spaces, as well as indoor communal areas in the main block. Because of this, some clients have seen improvements in their family relationships, with some now regularly cooking meals for their families and re-establishing their familial roles. The set-up has seen improved social interactions, increased visitor numbers and improved quality of life.

The main office is positioned on the corner of the ground floor giving excellent views of the active street frontage. The office meets the Great Place Agenda providing excellent working and rest facilities.  A second staff base is located adjacent to the multi-functional area and front door allowing staff to engage with, and passively supervise clients and actively manage the front door.

There is no double walled internal corridor in the main building. All the corridors have glazed routes promoting the relationship between the indoors and outdoors and provide wonderful natural lighting.   The two courtyard gardens provide residents with an informal area for practical and daily activity, and a more formal area at the front of the site links the public realm with a sensory wall and planting area.

This scheme provides a new model of care and support.  It is not registered as a care home although the activity carried out there is, and each client has their own tenancy – so the self-contained apartments not only promote independent living, but also money management and administrative skills. Clients feel empowered and are becoming more integrated into the local community – with many now knowing their local shopkeepers by name.

Aviary House provides us with a great example of how service and building design can work together to achieve fantastic outcomes for our clients.