For many, our homes are the backdrop of our most formative memories. When those suffering from dementia are uprooted from these familiar places, the consequences can be devastating. And while this is often a necessary condition of long-term care, it is possible to design spaces that promote dignity and independence without sacrificing safety. In the Icelandic town of Selfoss, a nursing home designed by Danish firm LOOP Architects and Reykjavik-based Urban Arkitektar, is poised to set a new standard for residential care facilities.
In a typical long-term care setting, meandering hallways pose a risk for residents to get lost. This is where the building’s circular floor plate comes into play. The 50 units, split between two storeys, are connected by a circulation loop that allows residents to move around independently while ensuring they always arrive back at home. Common spaces at the building’s core offer opportunities for social interaction, which is vital for those suffering from dementia.
The benefits of the circular form are twofold. Each unit is afforded striking views of the Icelandic countryside, in particular, the Ingólfsfjall mountain and the Ölfusá river, one of the country’s largest, offering immense sensory benefit for residents. In the central courtyard, the designers took the opportunity to introduce elements of nostalgia, such as an area for clotheslines and herb gardens scattered throughout, which also help with memory recall.
While the courtyard is open for residents to use for casual meetings, enjoying a morning coffee or leisurely walks, it was also conceived as a healing space, with room for occupational therapy and physiotherapy alongside other forms of exercise.
Sustainability was another major driver of the project’s design, which has been certified Very Good per BREEAM standards. The architects sourced local materials, such as volcanic ash used in the building’s cast-in-place concrete construction, reducing the environmental impact of its construction. While the concrete of the load-bearing structure was selected for its ability to withstand Iceland’s unique climate, the building’s FSC-certified wood cladding, imported from Norway, imparts a sense of warmth to the barren green terrain. The building’s sustainable features include a lush green roof and its courtyard is also used to harvest rainwater. The eco-conscious ethos extends indoors with the use of primarily recyclable materials.
But beyond the building’s benefits, the structure itself is simply beautiful to look at, with its green roof and wooden façade expertly woven into the landscape. It’s also emblematic of Iceland’s investment in its people and social programs — a socio-economic context reflected in the nursing home’s design.
It’s a case study that resonates internationally. Across the global north, the question of how to house a rapidly growing aging population has remained unresolved for decades, and the design of many long-term care homes typically fails to reflect the investment required in this typology. This holds especially true when the privatization of these facilities means profit is prioritized over the needs of residents. Cold, institutional and sterile, these spaces often lack the feeling of home that allows elders to age with dignity. When considering seniors with unique needs, such as those living with dementia, the challenges are compounded.
Fortunately, LOOP and Urban Arkitektar offer a compelling paradigm for more dignified elder care. As the architects note, there is great potential in reimagining this typology to centre daily experience, creating stimulating and sustainable places to live. For residents, who began moving in this past July, the space offers an ideal environment to age with grace and independence.
LOOP Architects and Urban Arkitektar employ evidence-based design practices to provide a safe and sustainable home for those living with dementia.