A possible future of nursing homes after Covid-19

Milan-based studio Laboratorio Permanente has won a competition for a facility for the elderly on Lake Iseo. They tell us about the project based on the relationship between community and landscape.

Laboratorio Permanente, a Milan-based studio, won the competition to expand the Casa della Serenità in Lovere, a nursing home on the shores of Lake Iseo.
From the project, developed during the first lockdown, emerge reflections and conditions inevitably linked to that moment, through two aspects. Firstly, the adaptation of the spaces to an unpredictable virus that was causing deaths in the nursing homes and the Bergamo province. Secondly, the intense relationship between community and landscape that the facility wants to develop, the radical nature of which is the result of a spring spent within the walls of the home.
Founders Angelica Sylos Labini and Nicola Russi tell us about their proposal: a CLT-wood building that finds a new therapeutic model through nature.

Axonometric view of the existing building (right) and its extension by Laboratorio Permanente

How did your work on this project proceed?
The Casa della Serenità extension project was our first work done totally in lockdown in the spring of 2020. This condition naturally led us to work differently, without the essential analogue tools we generally work with, such as studio models. As is usually the case for our projects, the initial concept started from an in-depth interpretation of the context conditions, both the nursing home itself and the landscape. The building is divided into two blocks arranged transversely to the hill. Lake Iseo is the wildest lake in northern Italy, and we tried to create, by experimenting with 3D visualisations, an environmental communication between the lakefront and the mountains.

Nursing homes have been in the news for some of the most critical moments related to the pandemic. How did that period affect the work?
The brief was to build an addition to the existing building following the Lombardy region model of the open nursing home, including, in addition to accommodation and hospital rooms, a series of services available to the local area and community. As this was one of the most sensitive issues in the press, even outside Italy, we made changes made necessary by the condition we found ourselves, which mainly concerned circulation.
More implicitly, then, the project was strongly affected by the condition of confinement we were living in our homes. Having to deal with life in a confined space led us to consider, humanly and design-wise, issues that we would not otherwise have been as decisive about, such as the CLT wooden structure and the relationship with the landscape, the possibility of customising domestic spaces and the creation of loggias. The rooms have a view towards the lake and, at the same time, towards the open courtyard and the other dwellings and see the lives of others. This sort of “human filter” represents precisely the sense of community that we wanted to bring to the project in the light of what we were experiencing last spring.

Interior view of the common areas of the building

What role does landscape play in the design of Casa della Serenità?
We always work with consultants in the embryonic phase of the project, and we did the same in this case. The landscape architects themselves came up with the suggestion of the therapeutic dimension of nature, which is realised in three moments: the direct contact (which consists in observing a germinating seed or touching a growing leaf) and those of sight, of the near and far horizon. In this sense, the project aims to maintain these three levels, starting with active involvement in the maintenance of the greenery in the courtyard separating the two volumes, which leads residents, accompanied by visitors but also by experts, to recognise those familiar elements in nature that help them feel at home.
The flower garden and the vegetable gardens in front of the kitchens of the existing building extend this approach. Simultaneously, the public piazza-belvedere seeks continuity with the square in Lovere through the use of the same type of paving.
Also, we have given equal attention to both the residents' and staff areas, preserving architectural quality even in the service areas and trying, where possible, to light naturally.

Read also: OMA and Laboratorio Permanente win competition for scalo Farini in Milan
Study on the local plant species relatedly to their therapeutic effect

The boundaries of architecture are nowadays widening towards other competencies, such as technology or landscape. What risks are there for the discipline?
For us, the boundary of the intervention area never coincides with the perimeter of the project area. However, there is one thing we fear, and that is that the fundamentals of a profession will be lost: multidisciplinarity is necessary, but this is inherent to architecture, which has always been a hybrid discipline. Drawing a parallel with cinema, the architect becomes an executive producer (i.e. an organiser), with the risk of losing his role as director.

What do you think the pandemic has changed for architecture?
If until last year time was the pivot of our existence, the pandemic has brought space back to the centre, starting with its role in spreading the virus. The debates on space have multiplied in recent months, and we have continually discussed what it means to be subjected to it, share it, or use it. In this context, we need to remember that architecture is the only discipline that deals with the measurement, quality and condition of space,

Project leader:
Laboratorio Permanente
Angelica Sylos Labini, Nicola Russi
Project team:
Luca Cozzani, Amedeo Noris, Alberto Ceriotti, Pietro Nobili Vitelleschi, Greta Benelli, Mario Ventilato, Francesca Luci, Pablo Hernando del Amo, Vittoria Leonardelli, Giulia Turati, Emilio Vata
Landscape consultants:
RSL - Rebediani Scaccabarozzi Landscape (Vera Scaccabarozzi, Lorenzo Rebediani)
Engineering consultants:
FOR Engineering Architecture (Roberto Mancini, Sofia Mori, Chiara Rinaldoni, Ronni Semeraro, Maria Sergio)
Technical and scientific coordination of the competition:
Luca Molinari Studio
Onlus Fondazione Beppina e Filippo Martinoli

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