Case Study: CEBRA's Children's Home for the Future
Updated: Apr 1
This case study explores a home where the architecture has been used as a tool to support child development alongside social pedagogy. During this case study the home was visited and the project Architect - Mikkel Frost was interviewed. The case study explores the process of creating a care environment from the perspective of the architect and client.
The architects CEBRA are a young award winning international practice who won the competition set by the client to design the home in 2012, the building was completed in 2014. This was their first time designing a children’s home which is a functional living and working environment.
The client hired an initial Architect to complie the brief and feasibility report for the competition, and also to raise funding from the investors. The initial Architect worked with the children, the staff, and the families from the existing home to put together the brief. They focused on the three main rooms of the home; kitchen, lounge, and bedroom. After CEBRA won the project they held further workshops but only with the staff.
“The children just want to be left alone they shouldn’t feel like they’re animals in a zoo” (Mikkel Frost)
The initial briefing with the children was sufficient. Participation was integral to CEBRA’s design process; “it is always based on dialect design. It is a working method that creates connection between social pedagogy and architectural ideas.” (Mikkel Frost) to ensure it works for the client and children equally.
The building is publicly owned, but majority privately funded, “the municipality are officially the clients they will be signing the documents even though they are not paying the money they’ll pay 30% of it and 70% is paid by the private foundations.” (Mikkel Frost) The private funding stops once the build is complete. It is publicly run, this is not something that’s made for profit, it is made for welfare.
“a project like this, often just comes down to one person, spends all his or her time working on this, stubborn, stubborn, year after year just keeps going. In Denmark we have expression called ‘fire soul’, a person that keeps burning at something, doesn’t tire. The person here is the principle, if wasn’t for her the building wouldn’t exist.” (Mikkel Frost)
In Kerteminde, the Municipality could not afford to purchase multiple sites and therefore needed one building that would work for every child. This created a greater flexibility of environments than that of multiply individual sites. CEBRA found the initial engineer had underestimated the scale, ”quite quickly we found that the client didn’t have enough money for the project” (Mikkel Frost) So CEBRA was left with two ways they could have approached the competition, “we can either do what you can afford but you wouldn’t be happy, or we can design what you’re actually asking for but you can’t afford it.” (Mikkel Frost) CEBRA took the risk and in their proposal designing, “a building that was exactly what they wanted but cost twice as much.” (Mikkel Frost) The proposal still won first place.
The concept behind the design was to create the ‘best home on the street’ for these children. “One of the reasons for picking this project against other projects in the competition was they thought it was the one that looks the most fantastic. They wanted the children to feel proud of where they lived” (Mikkel Frost). Choices were made to make the children feel valued,
“You can just feel that somebody went the extra mile for your sake and did more than just what the fee justifies. Is the first time somebody has done that for these children in such a visible way and you’re reminded of it every day when you get up.”
The form is of equal value to function of this building of which is implicit in the concept of home, “the private home in Denmark, and in England as well, has certain features...it’s part of your kit of your home symbols...we just borrow a lot of these symbols basically and use them on the building like this.” (Mikkel Frost) You are reminded of these principles playfully externally, internally, cleverly in the landscape, and internal decoration. “Friendly gesture I think to be playful with your architecture it’s not silly.” (Mikkel Frost) A future reminder that this is a children’s home not an institution, the architecture itself shows you playfulness is encouraged.
You walk away from the main harbour town into the forest of residential houses, the Children’s Home of the Future appears only when you are on the right street. The large building sits majestically on the site, superior to any other house but humbly so. I know I am about to walk into something special.
The different areas of the landscape incorporate the different children’s interests. Together this creates a communal playground. Each private garden sits in the paved gable shadow of the home, protected by its extension of form. The natural vertical timber is displayed on the north and south facades and orange tiles wrap down from the roof onto the east and west facades. The orange tiles reflect the vernacular of the site, but were specially made for the home to be less brittle than standard tiles. It is clear that the Kerteminde home is not a standard home from the external, but it still fits in with the site context. The internal switches from private home to shared facility where appropriate.
The building is divided into two; the children’s home and young person’s apartments. “The main thing was not the space itself it was the relation to other spaces.” (Mikkel Frost) The layout was crucial, explained Mikkel, but it had to be done with secret efficiency, “typical typologies; courtyard typology - no good, horseshoe - no good, etc, because all these typologies are institutionalised efficient plans...Our plans are efficient too but you can’t reallytell.” (Mikkel Frost) CEBRA discovered efficient layouts were an aspect of institutionalisation and instead consciously avoided these layouts for the home.
The building envelope of the home can accommodate 20 children and associated staff, “designing for flexibility because no two children are the same, no two stays have the same length they need to be able to improvise all of the time.” (Mikkel Frost) The building can accommodate; long stay, short stay, emergency placements, from the age of 0 - 23. It can also accommodate individual, families, relief for mothers and babies.
The children’s home is subdivided into two homes of 4 and 5 child capacity. No staff bedrooms are needed,all are waking night staff. The administration offices are in the centre of the building, meaning there are no staff offices or facilities in the homes.
“It was not a discussion actually the staff rooms” (Mikkel Frost)
All internal spaces were designed in the same hierarchy. Each home has its own entrance separate from the main staff entrance creating the feeling of a collection of houses rather than one large group building. The staff have seen a positive impact resulting from the architecture.
“they have way fewer conflicts between the children” (Mikkel Frost)
The separated homes feel separate with no sense they are part of a larger complex. No spaces over look another spaces. You cannot see into a living room from another bedroom or living room. It is also important that the correct level of observation can still be obtained by staff and no ‘cubby holes’ are created as this can put the children is danger of abusive situations.
The young person’s apartments are sub divided into a complex range of living environments. These apartments are for aged 17 - 23 to practice independent living. The young persons’ space was really important. The apartments are accessed via private front doors or by the main entrance ,that on appearance, has the atmosphere of a modern apartment lobby. All the apartments are self-contained and flexible to accommodate for young adults, short term relief for mothers and babies, and family visits.
The architecture supports visitation from a child’s family. The interaction between the child and parents happens in the communal environment, this allows a safe neutral space for the child without the intrusion of their intimate space, it also means that the other children are not disturbed in their home. The building allows therapy to take place within the home with individual children or with children and their families. An important aspect of the house is autonomy. The children have the autonomy to self-govern their environment and social relationships. For many of the children who enter residential care homes autonomy will be a new experience. This is achievable for each individual child through the flexibility, private and semi-private, internal and external, spaces created by the architecture.
The challenge for the project was this ‘new type’ of architecture, “Honestly I would not have the knowledge of how to run the children’s homes, I think no architect does.” (Mikkel Frost) Empathy is needed when designing for marginalised groups, “It is a mental state of mind that you switch only when you do these sort of things, you need to be really considerate.” (Mikkel Frost) Another challenge was the detailing of the project to create beautiful architecture within the regulations. No standard details were used for the project. “So the challenging thing in Denmark is wall thickness, we have a lot of installation. Buildings with a gable like this, that look quite slim, is actually really thick, but the wall has been pushed back.” (Mikkel Frost) Value was given to a high standard of design which, in turn, gave value to the children and young people.
However, the home had to be reduced from the original design to the detriment of the house, “the spaces are simply honestly too small and the principle will say the same thing, and she’s right.” (Mikkel Frost) As testified by the staff and children, the new home is a substantial improvement on the former home but the architect still has areas that could be improved.
Personal observation of the home; every element of design appears to be based on Edward T. Hall’s theory of Proxemics
CEBRA has achieved flexibility, autonomy, safe environments, and privacy that could not have been achieved without careful design and ‘dialect design’. This architecture is a necessary component in the treatment for the children. Verbal feedback from the staff has shown that the new environment causes less conflict between the children. This could be due to more space being provided, however, the internal room sizes are not luxurious and some are too small for the function, it is the relationship between the spaces that are designed well. The house succeeds in creating separation internally, however, without fully understanding the home, externally could give the impression of a large group facility.