Architecture as a social tool

The foundation ‘Den A. P. Møllerske Støttefond’ supports non-profit goals, while the member-based philanthropic organisation Realdania supports projects in the built environment which enhance quality of life. Together with the Danish Association of Architects, the two Danish organisations have taken the first step towards systematically gathering knowledge about how architecture can support social work.

A pilot study of six selected Danish cases has, among other things, shown that physical surroundings can reduce conflict levels, strengthen users’ pride and sense of ownership – and create more peace of mind in their everyday lives.

Most architects would be quick to agree that architecture has a big impact on our quality of life, sense of security, well-being and mental health. On the other hand, other professional groups such as social workers, psychiatrists and social educators are often less aware of how the built environment can support their work.

This is because no systematic knowledge is available on the specific contribution that different architectural measures make to social work, or how the physical surroundings influence users on a daily basis. Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond and Realdania are now seeking to address this together with the Danish Association of Architects.     

– We have a notion that architecture can contribute more value to social work. Consequently, we initiated an analysis of six selected cases as our starting point. The aim is to learn more about the processes, and illustrate the potential benefits, says Mette Margrethe Elf, project manager at Realdania.


Bakery paves the way for equal contact

The six cases studied cover several different types of users, including a crisis centre for female victims of violence, sheltered housing for the severely mentally ill and a children’s home. The projects have been analysed using a single analytical model which, among other things, examines aspects such as sensory stimulation, behaviour control, inclusion and stimulating activity.

– We are not able yet to draw any definitive conclusions. However, the analysis provides some important indications of what one can achieve, says Mette Margrethe Elf, and provides a couple of examples:

– For example, the fact that the outwardly reactive psychiatric patients at the sheltered accommodation unit Orion in Hillerød now have their own entrances has resulted in reduced conflict levels, because they’re not confronted with each other to the same extent. And among the special-needs residents in Hjortshøj, a bakery and a grocery store have helped to give them new competencies and the opportunity to meet and work with their neighbours in the local community, says Mette Margrethe Elf.


Effect measurement from the outset

After publishing the analysis report, the parties behind the pilot study are now sharing their experiences with relevant professional groups. Among other things, at a mini-seminar in January 2018, and as part of the projects in which Den A. P. Møllerske Støttefond and Realdania are involved. – Architects, consultants and public service providers need to start talking about this, so that it’s included as a requirement in public tenders. We’re also aware that we need to take our own medicine, so the findings will play a role in the projects that both Realdania and A. P. Møller undertake with other partners, says Mette Margrethe Elf, adding:

– The projects need to be organised so that we derive maximum benefit from them for the sake of the users and the professional work. We must set specific goals, and incorporate effect measurements from the very outset. 

Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond has earmarked a donation of DKK 750 million for social projects.  This includes a special focus area aimed at projects where the individual building benefits the specific target group, while at the same time building and disseminating knowledge that can lead to more widespread application.

FACTS: About the ‘Social bricks’ pilot study and the six cases

In the ‘Social bricks’ pilot study, the Danish Association of Architects, Den A. P. Møllerske Støttefond and Realdania have used the social effect prism to shed light on six Danish projects:

  • Danner in Copenhagen – Crisis centre for female victims of violence. Conversion.
  • Orion in Hillerød – Sheltered accommodation for the severely mentally ill. Conversion.
  • Bogruppe 6 in Hjortshøj – Residential institution for adults with special needs. Newbuild.
  • Varmestuen in Odense – Centre for the socially disadvantaged. Newbuild.
  • Esbjerg Psychiatric Department – Psychiatric Hospital. Newbuild and conversion.
  • Villaen in Kerteminde – Home for children in care. Newbuild. 

Read more about the children’s home in Kerteminde >

Read more about Esbjerg Psychiatric Department >