PLH Designed the Largest Drug Consumption Center in the North

In central Copenhagen PLH Arkitekter designed a new drug consumption center where drug users can take their drugs in safe surroundings and under the supervision of healthcare personnel. The drug consumption center is situated in a 1000m2 former slaughter house in the fashionable Meatpacking District. The house is open and staffed 7:30-23:30 al days of the week and can service 24 drug users in several separate rooms. Architecturally PLH has used ’nudging’ in the design of flow and choice of colors in the building. The Drug Consumption Center opened on August 15th 2016 and the Center has approx. 200 users a day.

Safe Surroundings for Drug Users
The new drug consumption center was designed to improve the condition of drug users in Copenhagen – and at the same time reduce the problems and discomfort linked to drug abuse in the local community. Drug users are some of the most vulnerable social groups and the new drug consumption center is creating a safer and more worthy life for drug users who now have the possibility of bringing their drugs to the center where they can take them in clean, safe and secure surroundings. At the center they are assisted by health care personnel ready to help and give first aid in dangerous situations and at the risk of overdose. Drug users can also get counselling and guidance in relation to other health related issues, participate in different activities and contact to social workers or other authorities can be established.

”We are very happy about this project - the new center is social architecture very much in line with the overall purpose of PLH which is improving the quality of life through design and architecture” says Lars Toksvig who is the responsible partner on the project.

Architecture Creating Stability and Security
The Drug Consumption Center is designed to be welcoming and create a sense of calm and at the same time rooms and surfaces can tolerate intensive use. Spatial sequences and passageways are very open in order to avoid conflicts and create a quick overview and make visual contact easier for the personnel. At the same time the renovation strategy has focused on respecting the unique architectural features of the buildings in the Meatpacking District.
In the long building PLH has created a shape and a flow with angels down through the house – a structure that enables the employees to see each other at all times. At the same time transparent glass walls and doors with portholes have been used throughout the building in order to give the personnel a chance the see if somebody falls ill or if conflict occurs.

Nudging in Flow and Psychology of Colors
To design a safe and secure building the architecture has to be able to handle a certain level of conflict in order to affect the state of mind that the drug users are in during different stages of their drug intake. PLH has used nudging to try to affect the behavior of the users. When the users enter the building, not having taken their drugs yet, there can be aggressions in the air. Therefore the entrance is very spacious, the personnel are clearly visible, and the users can split into different groups according to whether they have to smoke or inject their drugs. The entrance is coloured in cool and quiet green and blue nuances in order to reduce the level of conflict.

When the users have taken their drugs they enter a restitution area where we have worked with warmer tones of purple and burgundy to create a calm and relaxing atmosphere where the users can have a break from the hectic everyday life on the streets. After relaxing the users can choose to continue into an area where they can have a meal and a talk with counsellors or health personnel. They also have the possibility of attending different activities - classes, gymnastics, movie viewing etc.

Rikke Haugaard, leading architect on The Drug Consumption Center says: “In order to create great architecture you have to be able to empathize with the living and working conditions of other people. When it comes to drug users their conditions are very extreme, and at the same time it is very life-affirming to experience the people who, on a daily basis, fight for the dignity and a proper life for the most exposed groups in our society.”

A Thorough End-User Process to Establish the Right Balance between Hard and Soft Values
In order to create a place and a space that satisfies the need of the users for domestic and worthy surroundings, as well as meeting the requirements of security and safety of stakeholders like the police, the staff, different authorities etc., it was necessary to establish a multi-staged user-involvement process. PLH facilitated the process through meetings and workshops for the Drug Consumption-building committee which consists of key professionals from the social services of the municipality, from “Mændendes Hjem” (A local shelter for homeless men), from Vesterbro Local Committee, The Meatpacking District Board as well as user-representatives – all of which have taken part in developing the project.

"In a project like this it has been extremely important to reach the right balance between harder and softer values and the contrasting needs that the different stakeholders have “ says Lars Toksvig

The Location and the Interests of the Stakeholders
With the goal of supporting the local community as well as the drug-users the drug consumption center is to reduce drug related problems on street level.

The Drug Consumption Center is placed on Vesterbro – a neighborhood where many of the users are already located – and efforts have been made to place the center in a both central as well as anonymous location that is easily accessible to users - without causing too much inconvenience to residents and others in the area. In the layout and design of the outdoor areas it is taken into account that the police have transparency in regards to illegal drug-dealings and privacy is secured by avoiding that by-passers and neighbors can look in to the premises.

"The location on Halmtorvet next to fashionable restaurants in Vesterbro shows how diverse, generous and tolerant a society we live in. In my perception, Vesterbro in Copenhagen is the only neighborhood where it is possible to place this type of center in such a central location in a capital city" says Lars Toksvig.