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Children’s Psychiatric Center, Basel

Located on the northeastern edge of the Universitäre Psychiatrische Kliniken campus in the city of Basel, the new Children’s Psychiatric Center seeks to establish a straight forward relationship with the orthogonal arrangement of the existing buildings. A walk around leaves behind an understanding of the campus as a composition of an infinite repetition of 90 degree angles in the shape of two and three story buildings, in contrast with the impactful lush vegetation significantly higher than the modestly scaled structures. In this repetitive tempo and the tension between built and natural forms, the new center finds its narrative.

Programmatically, the center consists of conventional uses found in a psychiatric clinic such as offices and therapy rooms, as well as housing facilities and a school for the patients in need of long term treatment. In order to be consistent with the surrounding building heights, the clinic and the school were separated into two different structures. This would drastically change the daily routine of the young patients staying for extended periods of time. In order to attend school they would have to leave the clinic, perhaps establishing a rhythm closer to their daily lives when staying at home. In between the school and the clinic a large playground welcomes the children staying at or visiting the clinic, as well as the community at large.

The school building is organized along a single loaded corridor with generous windows that allow for direct views to the playground and the park-like campus. Its oversized dimensions, along with a large open area at one of its ends could sustain active playing during breaks when the weather would prevent the children from being outside. On the western side the classrooms receive the afternoon sun. The construction method of the school is exposed cast in-situ concrete.

While the school’s typology would present it as a slender volume when seen from the street, the large rectangular body of the two story clinic would be perceived as excessively horizontal and well grounded. The cornice line is endlessly parallel to the ground. Vertical fiber cement paneling and windows evoke the verticality of the surrounding “forest.” The apparent dullness of the exterior wall is juxtaposed to a series of sculpted circular voids that unexpectedly animate the interior. On the inside, the voids dominate the composition. They are defiant and do not conform to the orthogonal matrix. Finished with oak, their geometry is clear and soft. The intention is to create an opportunity for the children to pause in their routine visits to the clinic.