When some of Denmark’s most vulnerable children are asked to draw their dream home, their pictures resemble most other children’s drawings. Yellow sun. Smiling faces. A flagpole with the Danish flag flying. A front door, a white picket fence and a pitched roof.
These instantly recognisable elements were an important signal that the new children’s home in the Municipality of Kerteminde should not look like an institution. The architect Mikkel Frost from CEBRA, which won the design competition, explains how the building came to be dubbed ‘Villaen’ – or The Villa – by its young residents.
– The children were deeply involved in the preliminary work for the architectural competition. They live in an institution, and we can’t change that, but it has been a priority for us to make it feel as homely as possible. A place they would feel proud to invite friends back to. We’ve therefore gone to great lengths to rethink the traditional Danish house and include, for example, dormer windows, balconies and a pitched roof, in one instance even turning the roof on its head, says Mikkel Frost.
A rare task
The traditional approach in Denmark is for marginalised children to be placed in foster families, if at all possible, which means that very few new children’s homes are built. Therefore, the architects at CEBRA didn’t have a lot of experience to draw on in their design process.
– Designing a children’s home is a rare project, not like offices and ordinary homes. In fact, none of the competition entries were entirely successful in terms of the interior layout, the organisation of the various functions, or the synergies at play. Afterwards, we therefore worked closely with Birgit Hjelme, who manages the children’s home, and adjusted the layout and certain aspects which, due to our ignorance, we had got all wrong, recalls Mikkel Frost, adding:
– We had, for example, put the younger and older children together, based on an idea that the young children could learn from the older residents and have someone to look up to. However, many of the older children have previously had to assume the parental role because their parents were unable to cope. Consequently, it was important that they had space to be themselves. Another idea we had to relinquish was that of cosy galleried sleeping areas. In fact, the staff must be able to have a complete overview all the time, as some of the children require constant supervision.
The little differences
In spite of the limitations resulting from the children’s special situation and the professional needs of the staff, we have nevertheless succeeded in minimising the institutional feel. Among other things through minor variations in the individual rooms, shorter corridors, individual entrances and exclusive materials.
– Institutions often consist of identical rooms placed along dead-straight corridors. At ‘Villaen’, every room is unique, so that the room next door feels different to your own. Also, high-quality materials have been used both inside and out. The facades are clad with hardwood on all the gable ends, while tiles have been used on the long walls. Inside, we’ve installed Troldtekt acoustic panels on the ceilings, because it’s a more homely material than most ceiling systems, which feel more institutional, says Mikkel Frost.