Anything but Institutional, BLP destigmatises Youth Mental Health Design

Each year one million young Australians experience mental ill-health. Mental healthcare environments can be clinical, monotonous and overwhelming to all people, especially the young.

Recognising that the right environment plays a significant role in providing the best opportunity for care, treatment and recovery, Billard Leece Partnership (BLP) designed Orygen and OYH Parkville (Orygen) a new home for the globally recognised National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, alongside specialist mental health service provider Orygen Youth Health.

Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, is the world’s leading research and knowledge translation organisation focusing on young people’s mental ill-health. Its home is a purpose-built facility to accommodate care, research, and training services to encourage young people to reach out and seek help.

“We feel very privileged to have worked on this ground-breaking project with such an engaged group of people. This project represents a culmination of BLP’s 26 years at the forefront of health, research and urban design. We believe its design has the power to transform the lives of many young Australians suffering from mental ill-health, and their families.” – Ron Billard, Founder and Principal.

Blurring the line between client, visitor, researcher, and educator, Orygen de-institutionalises the traditional mental health facility through an open plan approach that allows users choice of environment and flexibility to move while dissolving departmental boundaries.

By engaging with the principles of Universal Design, facilities are easily utilised for different needs without isolating or excluding any population group – an important part of Orygen’s and OYH’s commitment to inclusivity.

“One of the most discussed issues with young people and clinicians was ‘inclusivity’, particularly for those in the LGBTQIA community, though our consultation process identified gender and sexual orientation discrimination is a real issue for young people and not just for those living the experience. One way we addressed this was to make all amenities in the new facility gender neutral.” – Tonya Hinde, Principal and Design Leader.

Designed in consultation with young people, for young people – Orygen is the result of young Australians actively shaping the spaces they occupy throughout the design process. By empowering the users, Orygen gives young people a level of autonomy through choice and flexibility about the environment they would like to be consulted in. A series of welcoming and open spaces, universal and inclusive spaces, and non-hierarchical environments were designed. Spaces that don’t present a power imbalance.

To support collaborative discussions and shared decision-making, Orygen provides a choice of places to meet based on how young people are feeling at the time, not when the appointment was made. Consulting rooms range from deliberately ‘cave-like’ rooms to tuck away in, to larger open designs; all neutral non hierarchical spaces that support collaborative discussions and shared decision-making, configurable to suit their needs at the time. Dimmable lights enable adjustment according to mood.

“There was a conscious effort to bring the natural beauty of the surrounds into the structure. We wanted to avoid the ‘inside versus outside’ scenario, and create lots of open spaces for walking and talking. The stairways are wide enough for two people to comfortably walk together on them. Even the consulting rooms have outside decks so people have the ability to find space to debrief, settle or reflect on what’s been happening.” – Tonya Hinde.

Orygen’s siting is a rare combination of both an inner-city urban location and a natural bush setting. The building is a series of pavilions shaped around a central courtyard with an established apple bark tree. As a symbol of resilience, strength, and agility, the tree grounds the site and forms the heart of a unique bushland environment.

The entrance is relaxed and open with lots of greenery, daylight, warm timber finishes and a variety of seating options, avoiding waiting room clichés and creating an easy-going gathering space, or a place to have some alone time, for anyone who needs it.

Tall branching mullions are joined internally by a curved timber ‘canopy’ that contains the space and provides its unique forest-like character, providing comfort inside from connections to the outside. This language pervades all public spaces on the campus, visually connecting yet gently separating spaces horizontally and vertically.

Orygen continues to empower individuals and inspire the future of mental health design in Australia and around the world, winning Project of the Year for New Build at the UK Design in Mental Health Awards 2021 and Best Mental Health Design at the 2019 European Healthcare Design Awards.

Committed to designing environments that heal, change lives, and shape the future of mental health facilities – BLP improves the accessibility and appropriateness of youth mental health services by designing place to destigmatise mental ill-health and encourage young people to reach out and seek help.

Anything but Institutional, BLP destigmatises Youth Mental Health Design

Adelaide Bell