vidya sagar institute of mental health, amritsar

architect: sarbjit singh bahga, chandigarh -

mental hospital is a specialty hospital, with its patients having their special needs. broadly, the patients can be acutely disturbed and excited, or behaviourally settled. most of the patients are mobile, and, therefore, need more open space. average stay of patients in a mental hospital is usually much longer than their counterparts in other hospitals, and they frequently suffer from social stigma and face problems in rehabilitation on discharge. all these factors have been taken into consideration while planning and designing the vsimh, amritsar.

planned on a site of 45 acres, the master plan comprises primarily two zones: the outer circle and the inner circle. the outer circle accommodates the buildings like opd-cum-diagnostic-cum-administrative block, occupational therapy/rehabilitation unit, voluntary patients’ unit, serai, shopping / cafeteria besides, services like kitchen, laundry, and stores. staff quarters have also been located in the outer circle on the eastern fringe of the campus. the inner circle having wards of different types has further been divided in two sections: the male section on the east and the female section on the west. these sections are enclosed by 6-foot- high boundary-walls with restricted entries. check-posts are provided at each entry point. each section has separate ward blocks i.e. for intermediate/improved patients, forensic unit, acute care and chronic stay. the opd-cum-administrative block is placed on the front that is the southern side while the kitchen and laundry block is placed at the back or the northern side. occupational therapy/rehabilitation unit on its east and a mini-complex of voluntary unit, shopping/café, and serai on its west flanks the opd/administrative block.

all the building blocks in the campus have been laid out on a strict cartesian pattern with symmetrical juxtaposition reminiscent of traditional indian campuses. the built-up masses and the open spaces are ingeniously interwoven to create a building-in-the-garden effect. the entire hospital complex has been linked by vaulted corridor running independently through open spaces with greenery on both the sides. built-up benches have been provided at certain intervals for casual sitting while walking in the corridor. the intersections of two corridors have been developed as a 20 feet by 20 feet chowk with a high roof.

the entire inner circle has been kept strictly pedestrian so as to impart serene and tranquil environment to the inmates. vehicular traffic has been restricted to the periphery. the designs of all the building blocks have been evolved keeping in view the peculiar requirements of different types of patients. efforts have been made to evolve a distinctive architecture for each block so as to make them easily identifiable by the inmates. however, the unity and consistency–the two important aspects of campus designing–have been taken care of by providing uniform external finishes i.e., exposed concrete and red sand-stone cladding. the master plan provides for ample open spaces to be developed as gardens, parks, play fields, etc. this helps in creating a lively, cheerful, and natural environment, which is a prerequisite for such hospitals.

in the design of the vsimh, efforts have been made to exploit the potential of reinforced concrete especially, plasticity of the material. specially designed and manufactured steel shuttering has been used extensively and its natural expression on the external surfaces has been kept exposed. plasticity of the material has been highlighted in the doubly curved surfaces of many elements such as vaulted and curved link corridors, intersections of link corridors, a mushroom-shaped sculpture incorporating name plaque in the front, curved balconies, and a very sculpturesque ohsr. the extensive use of exposed concrete on such a large scale in the present times proves wrong the notion that exposed concrete is a material of the past.

structural system
designing, laying/siting, and construction of such a large complex, especially when it is well integrated and unified, have always posed a great challenge to the architects and executors. the problem is even more aggravated when the site is uneven and low lying as in the case of this institute. to cope with the above problems and to facilitate easy laying/siting and construction, the entire complex has been designed strictly on a grid-iron pattern with 6.55-metre spacing on both the axes. the structural members of all the buildings have been juxtaposed at the intersection of the grid lines. this arrangement ensured zero-error accuracy in laying out all the building components in the campus and their link-corridors.
keeping in view seismic factors it was decided to adopt reinforced-cement-concrete (r.c.c.) frame-structure. the main structure consists of r.c.c. columns, beams and slabs, which have more capacity to absorb seismic forces. moreover, this system allows more flexibility in spatial organisation, and can also adapt itself to unforeseen future changes. footings of all r.c.c. columns have been tied together by plinth-beams, which not only make the structural system monolithic but also help in dealing with substantial difference between natural ground level and plinth level. keeping in view the magnitude of work and aesthetic considerations, rainwater disposal pipes have been ded in external r.c.c. columns. the other public-health service-pipes are housed in appropriate ducts accommodated inside the building-frames. to meet the special requirements of this institute, floor-to-ceiling height has been kept 3.66 metres, a little on the higher side. most of the r.c.c. columns are of 305 mm by 610 mm and beams 305 mm by 535 mm size. expansion-joints have been provided at requisite intervals and are ingeniously incorporated into, and integrated with, the entire complex.

keeping in view special requirements of the institute, all specifications have been decided meticulously. the governing factors for selection of materials were strength, durability, consistency, maintenance, cleanliness, etc. external surfaces of all the buildings in the institutional area have a combination of two materials: concrete and red sandstone. all the reinforced-cement-concrete components on external side: columns, beams, fascias, lintels, ceilings, projections, etc., have exposed concrete finish with steel-shuttering pattern. external brick-wall surfaces are clad in red sandstone. the combination of concrete and red sandstone not only gives a unified and consistent character to the complex but also helps in achieving maintenance-free surfaces.