Name: Móberg Nursing Home
Place: Selfoss Iceland
Client: FSRE, Iceland
Size: 4100 sq m
Architects: Urban Arkitektar (Iceland) and Loop Architects (Denmark)
Partner in charge: Guðmundur Gunnarsson
Project Leader Urban Arkitektar: Michael Blikdal Erichsen
Project Leader Loop Architect: Mette Nymann
Landscape architects: Hornsteinar, Iceland
Engineers: VSR, Iceland
Light design: Liska, Iceland
Acoustic design: Brekke Strand, Norway
BREEAM+ assessment: EFLA, Iceland
Art: Olöf Nordal
Amid the scenic land of Selfoss, a town in southern Iceland on the banks of the Ölfusá river, the cylindrical building takes shape as part of the site. Set against the serene green and mountains of the context, the nursing home contrasts with the other buildings in the surroundings due to its architectural language and scale. While prioritising safety and accessibility, most often, even impeccable design of care homes shrink to conventional standards. However, in Móberg Nursing Home, the architects adopt a circular plan, where the central area becomes an open garden space for leisure and the building in turn becomes a protective boundary wall encircling it. Utilising the volume thus formed, the building functions inwards while imparting visual connections outwards. Balconies occupy the wooden appearance of the facade design, thereby opening up the structure to the surroundings and conversing with the immediate environment, even while holding a different world inside.
This forward-thinking long-term care home for dementia patients wholeheartedly embraces circular design — both formally and environmentally. Danish firm LOOP Architects and Reykjavik-based Urban Arkitektar leveraged the building’s round floor plate to create a continuous circulation loop, ensuring residents always return home safely when moving around independently. The space prioritizes dignity and autonomy in every regard, offering sensory stimulation via sweeping views of the Icelandic landscape from each unit and a central courtyard that provides areas for therapy and much-needed opportunities for social interaction, along with nostalgic elements that can improve memory recall such as clotheslines and herb gardens.
These feats are made even more impressive when considering the facility’s sustainability credentials. The building is certified Very Good by BREEAM, making use of local materials including volcanic ash and FSC-certified wood cladding, and a lush green roof that is deftly integrated into the terrain. It’s proof that nursing homes don’t have to be the cold and institutional spaces that have become normalized in North America, and that sustainability is indeed an essential component of human-centred design.
Most importantly, the home demonstrates the tangible benefits of Iceland’s investment in its people and social programs. As designers the world over grapple with a growing aging population, this project offers many valuable lessons in designing dignified spaces for senior care. As the architects note, “there is great potential in reimagining this typology to centre daily experience, creating stimulating and sustainable places to live.”
Danish studio Loop Architects arranged this circular care home in Selfoss, Iceland, around a landscaped central garden to create a “homely and stimulating” environment for residents with dementia.
The specialist facility in the town in southern Iceland contains 50 private accommodation units in a two-storey, ring-shaped building with a courtyard garden at its centre.
The circular floorplan is designed to facilitate continuous movement through the building, providing access to amenities including communal lounge areas while ensuring residents always end up back at their accommodation.
Residences are arrayed along the building’s perimeter to make the most of views of the surrounding countryside, including Ingólfsfjall mountain and Ölfusá river.
The 22-square-metre dwellings feature a standardised layout, with the en-suite bedrooms opening onto terraces at ground level and balconies on the first floor.
The care home was constructed with a concrete framework cast-in-situ. It is wrapped in imported Norwegian timber that introduces warm and tactile surfaces to the exterior.
Concrete and wood also form the basis for the internal palette, which comprises a number of recyclable materials.
At the centre of the building is the garden, which incorporates typical domestic features including drying areas with clotheslines to remind residents of their previous homes.
The landscaped outdoor space also includes a water feature filled using harvested rainwater, along with a kitchen and herb gardens. Indoor spaces for occupational therapy and physiotherapy open directly onto adjacent terraces.
Within the whole project, the courtyard design of the central space becomes the heart of the design. The garden, envisioned to be an open space for leisure and recreation, becomes a protected environment. Between a garden outside the building where the inhabitants with dementia will be constantly under surveillance, and an indoor central garden where they can freely roam around without any help, the architects chose the latter. With such an approach, architecture becomes the passive protective barrier for the inhabitants. Like an example of ‘architecture heals’, the design itself makes the inhabitants more independent and confident while existing like a protective shell. In the garden, amid the vegetable trees and big larch decking is an art piece by artist Olöf Nordal, called Mannfuglar, meaning ‘man birds’. According to the artist, “the sculpture refers to an ancient Icelandic saying about the connection between the earth and sky, and about peace, hope, love, life and death.”
Adding to the responsible outlook of the architects, the building also takes into consideration multiple sustainability parameters. While incorporating several sustainable design solutions from the early design stages to the end of construction, the building is awarded a very good rating in the BREEAM certification system. Among the many efforts is the use of Icelandic ashes from the 2010 eruption in the concrete mix to minimise the cement import, which gives the concrete cast walls a darker tint. “Building materials such as linoleum floors, painting and sanitary solutions are EPD certified (environmental product declaration) or have the Scandinavian equivalent of the Svan-certification. The nursing home was constructed with a concrete framework cast-in-situ. It is wrapped in imported Norwegian timber (ceder) that introduces warm and tactile surfaces to the exterior, and grass on the roof is harvesting the rainwater,” adds Erichsen.
The Scandinavian architecture of the nursing home was conceptualised for an open competition hosted by Icelandic architect’s association (AI) for the country’s government property agency FSRE. Winning the competition, Urban Arkitektar and Loop Architects realised the project on the site. Talking about the same, Project Leader from Urban Arkitektar, Michael Blikdal Erichsen, states, “In the competition phase, we worked with a few rules where we added quality to the building that was not asked for in the brief, balconies and terraces for all residents, a roof to walk with benches around the perimeter to give visitors access to the stunning 360 views. The other important element was the enclosed garden where residents with alzheimers or dementia have access without supervision.”
Aarhus studio Loop Architects worked with Reykjavik firm Urban Arkitektar to develop the project for Iceland’s government property agency FSRE.
The team set out to develop a new format for dementia care facilities that provides a safe and comfortable environment tailored to the needs of the residents.
“With this project, we have designed a building that embraces its residents and simultaneously opens onto an inner, sensory world in the lush and protected courtyard,” explained Loop Architects partner Mette Nymann.
“We see great potential in rethinking dementia and care homes to make them more homely and stimulating while being sustainable.”
“The shape is democratic and creates equal opportunities for all,” Loop Architects added, “as everyone shares common functions located along the inner part of the circular building.”
In between designing for the needs and wishes of people, ‘user-centric’ is a term that gained much attention. Every design element, whether it be product design, interior design, graphic design or architecture, aims to develop a user-centric output. But when the user itself is unaware of their needs and wants, whom do you design for? And how? That’s when the term user-centric moves aside and human-centric comes in. Building from a human-centric perspective isn’t much different or complicated, it only means to add one important parameter to design, which is empathy. The significance of this comes in memory care. While designing and building for the elderly, architecture needs to think and function like the user, for the user. While the architecture fraternity is way past the discussions of healthcare architecture, nursing centres, care homes and old age facilities, the theoretical proposals are slowly taking shape physically. In one such example of defining ‘home’ for a user group that finds it hard to think, remember and reason, Icelandic firm Urban Arkitektar and Denmark-based Loop Architects have designed Móberg Nursing Home in Iceland. Taking a step beyond the conventional definitions of the typology, the architects took the opportunity to emphasise on ‘home’ and created a building that transforms into a shelter for residents with dementia.
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