Mental health, rightly, is front of mind in terms of connecting and checking in with friends and loved ones. The stigma that surrounds mental health tends to be that it should be dealt with in silence, that is an embarrassment, and that it is better left untouched. Thankfully, centres such as the Orygen and OYH Parkville, a new home for the globally recognised National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, assist a number of youths struggling with mental health issues. 

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Designed by Billard Leece Partnership (BLP) alongside Orygen Youth Health, the centre is a purpose-built facility that accommodates care, research, and training services to encourage young people to reach out and seek help.

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“We feel very privileged to have worked on this ground-breaking project with such an engaged group of people. We believe its design has the power to transform the lives of many young Australians suffering from mental ill-health, and their families,” says Ron Billard, Founder and Principal of BLP.

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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. Universal design principles inform much of the design and are an important part of Orygen’s and OYH’s commitment to inclusivity, with the whole facility made gender neutral to increase inclusivity for the LGBTIQA community.

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Orygen is the result of young Australians actively shaping the spaces they occupy throughout the design process. By empowering the users, The facility 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.

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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 present moment. Consulting rooms range from deliberately ‘cave-like’ rooms to tuck away in, to larger open designs; all neutral spaces that support collaborative discussions and shared decision-making, configurable to suit their needs at the time. 

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“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,” says Tonya Hinde, BLP Principal and project Design Lead.

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Orygen’s unique setting intersects 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. The tree sits as a symbol of strength, and 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, looking to divert from waiting room clich├ęs.

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A winner of many design awards, the Orygen and OYH Parkville aims to give young people a place of respite and refuge in a world that sometimes can be a bit too much. BLP have been instrumental in the creation of the space, aiming to ensure the design is equally inclusive and functional. Doing away with many health facility trends, the centre has the potential to be a catalyst for change amongst mental health facilities both at home and abroad.