Gillian White's contribution to the residential
building for psychiatric patients at Königsfelden

Uli Däster

Neither a monument in an exceptional location nor a subsequent addition to a building, this work seems to be there as a matter of course. In so doing it creates an extraordinarily sensual and valuable enrichtment to the internal and external spaces. As regards art in response to architecture it is opportune and provides a model for early and intensive collaboration between artist and architect.

In 1987 the architect Rene Stoos from Brugg won a competition for a residential home for patients at the psychiatric clinic in Koenigsfelden. Shortly afterwards he invited Gillian White to put forward her ideas for an artistic contribution. She said that she had already conceived of the essential concept when the building project was presented for the first time. The trigger must have been the idea that when psychiatric patients find their way around they often look on the ground. She wanted to engage with the residents through the use of flat ground relief and flooring inlays. She clung to her basic concept throughout all of the revisions despite it taking eight years before the building was finally handed over to its users on the 20th August 1996.

Faecher sphere

Examples of "Ground Work" can be found in earlier work of Gillian White, for example, the colour-ful polyester inlays in Zurzach Forum 1973 and the paved landscape that she made together with Albert Siegenthaler in 1983 as the foundation for the Echodrome in Lausanne which was itself only completed several years later. The group of Spheres, in particular those that seems to sink into the ground, also deserve a mention as well as the red granite memorial to Anna Pestalozzi in Birr (1996). But the work at Koenigsfelden is quite different to all of these. It was concerned with incorporating an extensive building programme with a range of internal and external spaces into an overall concept.

Two tracts of building each with four terraces of interconnected residential and occupational pavilions face one another forming a courtyard between them. The buildings are richly articulated and differentiated by colour. They appear light and transparent and despite the necessary security measures they offer a high degree of openness. Negative memories of secure institutinos are overcome by glazing the ground floor facing the courtyard with large windows and the use of smaller square openings with views of landscape and vegetation that take on the appearance of framed pictures. The psychiatric patients schould find a homely environment suitable for a lifestyle close to that of a family including the use of colour and materials.

Here where the senses of the residents are addressed the artist intervenes. With friendly intentions she counters the constrainsts of the architecture. Her system of floor inlays runs in every way counter to the rectangular system of the building and its overall plan. The characteristic ornamentation of each pavilion is made up of wavy lines and bundles of lines that originate in the front garden or even in the neighbouring roads. These strike out or narrowly intertwine, cross on another or run in parallel. They pass through the hourse ("showing minimal respect for walls", as Gillian Whites in her documentation for the building) crossing the grass courtyard diagonally to the pavilion opposite where each of the residential and occupational areas, and external spaces have their 'own' personality.

While each house is given its own signature, the materials and inlays change according to other factors relating to the building. Outside are mosaics made up of small pebbles inserted with jewel like glass or shiny, polished, red granite. In the grass of the large courtyard the signs reappear sporadically and twist their way around the bold, bentral line that meanders like a snake, a ribbon of narrow moulded concrete with sometimes the flash of a glass pearl. Inside the artist 'draws' in the parquet with coloured linoleum and in wet areas with painted ceramic tiles.In the slate flooring of the corridors she uses a mat finished brass. Where different areas cross over and there is a marked change in the use of materials it is particularly interesting: the path of the linoleum passes unhindered through a glass wall to be replaced by a snakeskin pattern of pebbles. Stepping through the bathroom door a blue line of ceramic tiles replaces the band of brass. If you raise your eyes you can see the wavy line traced across the ceiling.

There is something of both Land Art and Japanese stone gardens combined with discrete interior decoration; playful yet well suited to its purpose, awakening curiosity and enjoyment in valuable shiny objects. Covered with living details, it shows much empathy for the inhabitants and is integrated in every sense. Gillian White has created a unique work of art in a public building that remains out of bounds to the public.

Uli Däster

See also the slide show "Art with Architecture"


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