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We don't just fill a brief, but provide solutions

John Casson (aj 4.2.99) wished to open a dialogue on architects' impact through their buildings on mental-health patients and staff. In a Private Finance Initiative currently proceeding, we are acting as architect for a 28-bed esmi unit with day centre.

We have deliberately moved away from simply responding to a room-schedule brief, and see our role as much more proactive in providing solutions to care. Indeed, with the pfi we are an actual provider of the built facility with a responsibility for facilities management.

Key features of our project are:

User group liaison: a great deal of time was spent with staff, therapists and patients' relatives discussing options and taking them on visits to other facilities to help them decide what they wanted. This was an education for us and the rule book had to be burned! The relatives did not want all single-room accommodation but suggested a mix of single, double and quadruple bed groupings as being better for company.

Memory Trail: the therapeutic value of activity and sensory stimulation is addressed by means of a wander route that allows free movement through the building within a secure zone. Supervision of patients on this route is easy but not overt. Along the route are sensory aids to trigger memory association: a glass-roofed zone where rain can be heard, display for objects brought in by relatives, smell capsules, a perfume garden, old holiday posters. The deliberate creation of safe routes allows patients with a constant urge to keep moving to have a means of doing so without hindering others.

Role of relatives: family can play a very important role supporting patient and staff and yet, unlike the shorter patient stays of physical medical accommodation, they suffer prolonged periods of powerlessness, guilt and anguish. We involve the relatives from the start, in the design process and provide them, by means of the planning and memory trial, with a way to feel active and useful. This empowerment of the relative improves morale which is beneficial for the patient and often increases visiting.

Stimulus and choice: a range of spaces is provided to suit the moods of the patient, both quiet and active. Choice is offered in terms of where and how to be, and the creation of interlinked spaces to change environment can counteract boredom.

Healing garden: a focus of all the communal rooms is a garden with safe herbs and smelling flowers which do no harm if eaten. The rooms have a transparent wall on to this focus and the memory trail passes through it.

Design and maintenance responsibility: it concentrates the mind when the designer is responsible for the maintenance cleaning, catering and laundry within a building for a 30-year contract period - we have designed the interiors to be staff-friendly and durable while being as uninstitutional as possible.

The project should be the first mental-health facility provided under the pfi route. As we are not simply the designer, but also the contracted building supplier, we feel that as architects we have been able to be very influential in creating a healing and supportive environment.

Martin Habell

Maybourne Projects

London SE1

The RIBA should sweat the small stuff

About 70 per cent of planning applications, particularly among smaller projects, are designed by non-architects. In pursuing the deregistration campaign, presumably the riba wanted architects to increase their share of this work, not only for the benefit of individual practices, but in the belief that architects produce better buildings. How then is this consistent with the riba's pious dictum that its function is not to promote architects, only 'to advance architecture'?

Advancing architecture without promoting the architects who design it is a meaningless platitude. What architecture? Quinlan Terry and Robert Adam's oeuvre and, by association, the Prince of Wales; or the establishment golden boys, whose self-congratulatory and often recondite presentations of major projects might stimulate one another, but I suspect have absolutely no effect in increasing architectural appreciation or persuading the public that using an architect could be relevant to them.

The aj's two issues of 'Projects under £150k' featured buildings of a scale, creativity, craftsmanship, expertise and low budgets, to which any member of the public could immediately relate. That these examples are to be displayed at the riba Architecture Centre from 25 March at least offers a modest way of promoting not just architectural practices, but the idea of using an architect at all. This should be only the start of such exhibitions in public places up and down the country. That really is advancing architecture. Well done the aj for taking a lead.

Christopher Maguire

Cambridge

Why we should beware

of the Plant Police

Paul Hyett reminded us recently (aj 4.2.99) that bending or ignoring Building Control or planning rules could be tantamount to gross professional misconduct.

We all have a duty to be aware of the relevant legislation, but recently I saw a document issued by county-wide Building Control which appeared to add to the provisions associated with exempt work.

Enter the 'Plant Police' for conservatories. Building Control is saying that they should be 'used to some extent for the propagation of plants'. Be sure to include the price of a geranium in your fee and ensure it stays alive!

With both conservatories and porches, the Policy Notes state that no fixed heating be provided. Again, this is contrary to Building Regulations which in Section L1.43 merely state that in conservatories, heating, if provided, should be separately controllable! And what about those poor plants; can't they have any heating?

In a case I was involved with recently, I was further told by the building inspector that additional sockets in a porch were not allowed. This constraint featured in neither the Regulations nor the Policy Notes!

The Building Regulations are quite clearly written, so why do building inspectors feel the need to add to their provisions in an ad hoc and presumably unenforcable way?

Check that your local building inspector conforms to the Regulations and is not a wrongly wired plant-lover.

N J Blake

Architectural designer

Canterbury, Kent

Cardiff must be

kicking itself

Having seen the extraordinary pictures of Zaha Hadid's latest competition- winning scheme in your issue last week (congratulations on the redesign, by the way), it occurred to me how foolish Cardiff was to reject her competition- winner for the opera house project. Subsequently she has won not only the Rome project, but also the arts centre in Cincinnati, proving that her opera design was no flash in the pan, but the work of someone emerging as a great architect.

Howard Jackson

London W6

No dispute between police and architects

The National Architectural

Liaison Officer and Crime Prevention Design Advisers Conference, held at York in January this year, allowed police practitioners to hear at first hand of the findings from research undertaken by Professor Bill Hillier, head of the Space Syntax Laboratory, University College London. There had been recent press claims that Professor Hillier was in conflict with advice being given by police, but in his opening address he emphasised that his findings and comments had been misinterpreted.

In clarifying the outcome of the study, he explained how three different sites had been selected and researched. The main thrust of the work centred around (a) establishing geographical, not social, causes of burglary, (b) the surveillance available and exercised by neighbours, (c) the access afforded by footpaths, and (d) the informal policing of an area created by the movement of the general public.

Following the informative presentation, there was a lively and intelligent open forum. It was soon established that, contrary to public perception, there were more areas of agreement between Professor Hillier and the police than of dispute. Indeed, when potential conflict was examined there existed compromise and room for manoeuvre.

The session was so successful that Deputy Assistant Commissioner Bill Griffiths of the Metropolitan Police, chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers Crime Prevention through Design Group, fully endorsed Professor Hillier's call for further funding. This should be made available to address the outstanding areas that could finally draw together practitioners and academics, and produce guidance for successful environmental design.

Bob Knights

Chair, Association of Chief Police Officers Technical Committee

How do you get the transfers to stick?

It was a nice idea to preface your redesign of the AJ for the new millenium with a 1960s retro edition. Would your design studio let us all in to the secret of how to make that old Letraset we all seem to have lurking at the back of the plan-chest adhere: my own experience is that it loses all its stick after about 25 years.

John Bryer

London NW5

Cartoon tells us more than we may think

Louis Hellman's genetically modified cartoon last week comes close to telling an uncomfortable truth about many of the so-called iconic buildings of contemporary architects: the shapes are almost entirely arbitrary and the functions contained are shoe-horned in to fit a pre-ordained aesthetic. It is very sad.

Sadie Alexander

Nuneaton

Errata

In the article on the Cologne Furniture Fair (aj 25.2.99), the picture of the Lugana ceiling light was printed upside-down, the captions of the Vicosolo chair and the three-legged shellchair were transposed, and the designer of the Scene seating range is Gijs Papavoine, not Konstantin Grcio. Apologies.

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