How great architects can and should take responsibility for including suicide prevention in museum design | Artnet news (2023)

Content warning: This article is about suicide.

A month ago, a friend of mine committed suicide in circumstances that still seem horribly unreal. This friend, a talented poet, writer, former music journalist and singer-songwriter, took her own life by jumping over the fence on the top floor of the building.Center Pompidouin Paris.

An investigation by the State Prosecutor's Office in Paris showed that the circumstances were not suspicious.However,the incident raises pressing questions about the security measures of public institutions, as well as their responsibility to prevent such deaths. Suicide prevention measures are such a sensitive and complex topic that many architects and institutions are reluctant to discuss them with the media. However, it is worth consideringanda responsible attitude to ensure that buildings do not pose a danger and risk of self-harm to vulnerable people.

In response to a question from Artnet News about whether the Center Pompidou plans to implement suicide prevention measures and architectural changes to prevent similar tragedies, a spokesperson said that the investigation is ongoing and that the Center Pompidou "is not in a position to intervene or comment on the matter." ".

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The institution is undergoing an extensive renovation, which will cost 262 million euros ($285 million), and will close its doors from late 2025 to 2030. The main changes being made range from creating a new space under the square to renovating the roof. Renzo Piano, who with Richard Rogers designed the Center Pompidou, inaugurated in 1977, provided a blueprint for how the renovated building might look. Although Piano will not design the new underground space, it will have an advisory role.

Multiple emails to Piano's office within 10 days with the question how the site could be redesigned and what suicide prevention strategies could be put in place remained unanswered. A spokesman said over the phone that it was a "sensitive" issue and declined further comment.

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Newer buildings have to deal with a similar neighborhood.TwoFew years ago,Only, a 45-meter-tall, 2,400-step climbable structure in Hudson Yards, Manhattan, designed by London-based Heatherwick Studio, has been closed following the suicide of a teenager. It was the fourth suicide since the opening of the tourist attraction in 2016. The diagonal, seemingly endless staircase is reminiscent of the drawings of the Dutch artist M.C. Escher.Onlyit was closed for several months after three suicides before reopening with new security measures including mental health signage. Unfortunately, these changes proved to be insufficient.

Heatherwick Studio released the following statement to Artnet News about how it is testing other safety ideas: "We continue to test and evaluate solutions that allow us to reopen the staircase so that everyone can fully enjoy the unique experienceOnlyAffiliated Companies, the real estate firm owned by billionaire Stephen Ross that financed the $250 million project, could not be reached for comment.

Risks associated withOnlythey were obvious to some at the time of launch. In a prophetic article published inOd architectnkrant2016. Novinarka Audrey WaxHe wrote: "How it climbsOnlythe handrails stay right above the waist to the top of the structure, but if you build high, people will jump."

How great architects can and should take responsibility for including suicide prevention in museum design | Artnet news (2)

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Designer Thomas Heatherwick speaks on stage at the Hudson Yards, Newest Neighborhood, New York, official opening on March 15, 2019 in New York City. Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for related.

Wachs mentioned how the NYU Bobst Library solved a series of suicides in the central atrium in 2000 with architectural changes. The first was the installation of Plexiglas panels, which failed to prevent another suicide. The university then covered the atrium with laser-cut aluminum panels with a striking pixelated perforation pattern designed by Joel Sanders. "Philip Johnson and Richard Foster [architects of the Bobst Library] saw no death in the design that exposed the morbid idea to the public, but Ross and Heatherwick seemed to have learned nothing from Bobst or from the city's bridges and the building's iconic towering heights," Wachs said.

According to Sanders, part of the problem lies in the taboo on suicide. "Although suicide prevention is now starting to be introduced into the conversation, there is still a lot of stigma and shame surrounding the topic, which continues to hold back efforts to address the problem," he told Artnet News. “To solve this, we as a society must have an open conversation about this taboo in American social life, its systemic causes, and possible steps we can take to change the situation. Architects need to be part of this conversation so that we can generate new design strategies as we move forward […] that would encourage the public to collaborate on spatial solutions that take into account aesthetic considerations, rather than being tools introduced after the fact, as is mostly the case today."

Article inRIBA magazine, published by the Royal Institute of British Architects on how design can save lives as well as be fun, cited the difficulties of "destination architecture". Journalist and author Will Wiles wrote, "You want your appeal to be where people think of places to visit. But in some cases, that can also mean that your appeal comes to mind at an unwanted moment when someone is in crisis." Referring to the challenge facing architects in terms of suicide prevention measures, he wrote: "For someone determined enough, everything can be dangerous, and architects cannot be expected to overcome every possibility. You can make a comparison with crime prevention : the first thought is to remove temptation and opportunity.'

By removing triggers, architects must think about suicide prevention strategies early in the design phase. The proliferation of viewing platforms and high roof terraces in recent decades has been accompanied by the need for architects and their clients to consider the risk of self-harm and assess how to modify the design of existing buildings to prevent suicide.

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Papageno, a suicide prevention program supported by the French Ministry of Health, is part of the International Association for Suicide Prevention and offers expert advice on the issue. "Institutions, architects and building architects in France contact us for recommendations and examples of what has been done around the world [in terms of suicide prevention strategies],"Nathalie Pauwels, Papageno implementation program manager,he told Artnet News. "It is important that architects and developers consider suicide prevention before starting work. For existing works, if they acquire the chilling reputation of "suicide sites" [where multiple suicides occur], collective thinking is needed with construction managers, designers and government departments to respond to the urgency of the situation. […] The Eiffel Tower was one of those hotspots until 1982, when security nets and cameras were installed, which drastically limited access and resulted in suicides.

Pauwels believes that there are too few architects who are experts in this area. "Due to ignorance of the effectiveness of suicide prevention measures and technical possibilities, the profession hardly takes this concern [of suicide prevention] into account when designing works," she said. "It is up to suicide prevention officers to notify them, unless there is a legal obligation for them to do so in future years." Looking to the future, Pauwels wants to sensitize architecture schools so that the next generation of architects will consider suicide precautions when designing future buildings. He advocates the introduction of standards, such as the height of protective fences. "There are standards for people with disabilities and opening windows, but not yet for suicide prevention," she said.

Effective integration of suicide prevention measures can save lives.

When life is difficult, the Samaritans are with us - day and night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, send an e-mail to the address[email protected]or visitwww.samaritans.orgfind the nearest branch.

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a helpline for people in crisis or those who want to help someone else. To speak with a trained listener, call 988. Visit988lifeline.orgto use crisis chat services or to obtain additional information.find out more

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