I am delighted that your correspondent John Casson has opened the debate about the design of psychiatric facilities. He raises issues that are at the core of the purpose of architecture - the relationship between an individual and their modified environment. This is an area of therapy with remarkably little research into outcomes compared with (say) that common in the pharmaceutical industry. Many of the issues raised are common- sense and would sit well alongside standard guidance in the relevant nhs Health Building Notes and last year's report of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, 'Not Just Bricks & Mortar'. However, an additional point is well made. Architects must talk to psychiatric patients and staff as well as carers throughout the process of design and evaluation of mental-health facilities. This is simply proper briefing.
Buildings in the nhs are now commissioned through the Private Finance Initiative, which places the design team at arm's length from users. Indeed, briefing in the conventional sense does not occur at all. The consortium that can reach financial closure is assumed to have at least an adequate design - something of a hit-and-miss approach which depends for its success on the skills of a small band of specialist health architects. The recent riba Client Advisory Forum, 'Therapeutic Environments for Mental Health', and the Architects for Health discussion, 'Interior Design of Health Buildings', at the riba, show that there is fertile ground for the debate to flourish. What has the aj got planned?
maap, London EC2