A Flashy Psychiatry Center Visualizes The Mind-States Of Inhabitants

Spanish architect José Javier Gallardo Ortega hopes that his new, fire-engine red children’s psychiatric center in Zaragoza “robs us of prejudice” against people with behavioral and emotional problems.

Historically, architecture has had a hand in the stigmatization of mental illness. Think about the creepy old 19th-century insane asylums, with their ivy-camouflaged brick edifices hidden away on remote estates in far-flung corners of the world. Even the more humanely designed integrated care facilities of today shrink into the background. An effect, intentional or not: The more invisible the buildings, the easier it is to pretend that psychiatric patients simply don’t exist.


Spanish architect José Javier Gallardo Ortega, of the firm G.Bang has designed a small antidote with a flashy new children’s psychiatric center in suburban Zaragoza. Coated in electric red zinc with an erratically gabled roof, the Young Disabled Moduls and Workshop Pavilions looks like a fire house smashed into a giant EEG scan. Only louder. And the louder, the better, the architects say: “Hospitality [for] people who suffer mental impairment and integrating the patients into society as much as possible were the main goals. The red color is a symbol that makes them visible … that robs us of prejudice … that emphasizes the social work … [and] makes us more sexy!”

“Sexy” might be overstating the case. The aesthetic is rather severe for that. (Perhaps too severe. It’s one thing to design a building that raises the visibility of mental illness. It’s another to design a building that’s so peculiar, it could be taken for an unkind metaphor about mental illness.)

Beyond that, we’ve got to wonder how sexy it is on the inside. The angle of each roof is designed to represent “the degree of patients’ mental activity” in the room below. For instance, the sleeping area has a gentle 60% slope to connote rest and calm, whereas the common areas have dramatic 240% slopes to signify the commotion within. A nice touch. But we have no idea if it makes for a pleasant place to live and recover. There’s something deeply impersonal, almost sinister, about those crisp white hallways and theatrically saw-toothed roofs, as if you-know-who might be lurking around the corner.

What do you think: Can a design like this help destigmatize psychiatric problems? Or is it more look than substance? Let us know in the comments.

[Images courtesy of G.Bang; h/t to Dezeen]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.