Rosie Rainbow

Rosie Rainbow, who is currently studying at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, entered the Architects for Health’s First Student Health Design Award (2007) with the following submission. For contact please email:

The Warapuru Centre, a mental health retreat, Itacare, Brazil

The brief was to design a mental health retreat in an existing building in Itacare, Brazil, as well as to architecturally design an individual bungalow for a specific mental illness.


Along with its many beaches, Itacare has many rivers and waterfalls amongst the Atlantic rainforest, the most significant being the Contras River, which constitutes over 10% of the entire state. The name Itacare stems from words itaca, meaning noisy river and re, meaning different. Hence, Itacare means “river of a different noise”. In the past the Contras River was the principle route connecting villages and traditionally these waters are said to be the origin of life.

Water is seen in many cultures and religions to be a way of calming and cleansing the body and the soul. Many mental ill- nesses result from, or lead to a lack of appreciation of ones self and a depreciation of self-image. Water is used in the architecture and the treatment of clients to revitalize and cleanse the body and the mind. The reflective properties of water will be used in the therapy rooms as clients reflect on their life and self and learn to appreciate themselves.

Studies have proven that mental illnesses and mood disorders such as stress, depression and anxiety can be linked to dehydration. Many anti-depressant medications can cause dehydration, so a re-hydration scheme including dietary counselling will be enforced, as a healthy body helps a healthy mind.

The three levels of the building are divided by method of treatment, from passive to active to pro active. Water is used throughout the architecture to link each area, with the water flow increasing with the pace of the therapy. The floor plan consists of two long buildings with adjacent outdoor decks on the top two levels, and the third being completely underground.

G: Reflection

Passive therapy. Still water. Floating above the water.
Upon entering clients are led out onto a platform that appears to float over a reflective pool, overlooking the forest and beach of Itacare. With a library and deck, passive therapy is employed as clients are given time to themselves to relax and reflect. The reflective nature of the pool helps encourage reflection of self and the library promotes research and learning as well as piece of mind.

The pool is made of litra-con, a light transmitting concrete, so the reflections of the fish can be seen from below.

Water flows down.

LG 1: Rehydration

Active therapy. Flowing water. Interaction with the water.
Water flows slowly around the space so clients can have subtle interactions with the flowing water, putting their toes in the water flowing under the benches or eating from the interactive restaurant. Group counselling sessions and therapy classes make up one half of the deck, while the other includes a restaurant wherein food floats over the tables and clients are able to try healthy food and re-hydrate. Assortments of water are given the prestige of fine wines.

Water flows down.

LG 2: Rejuvenation

Pro-active therapy. Rushing water. Emersed in the water
The underground Aquatonic Seawater Therapy Pool contains seawater from the Atlantic Ocean off Itacare’s shore. The salt water is heated to optimum temperatures to rebalance mineral deficiencies and assist in the cure and prevention of physical and mental illnesses. The client makes their way through hydromassage stations at their own pace, through the therapeutic jet streams, micro-bubbles and fountains to rehabilitate injures muscles, relieve stress and aid relaxation. Individual and group therapy rooms are designed to follow a hallway that rises gradually up from the water. Floatation tanks and lap pools are cut into the cliff face.

Water flows down.

Outdoor prayer space

Clients put their fingers in the water as it flows down the handrail of a long passage of stairs to the outdoor prayer space. This non-denominational space is a place of worship for all. Nature becomes the architecture.

Individual bungalow. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

As specified by the brief, the individual bungalow is designed for clients suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (ocd). The bungalow, in the midst ofthe rainforest is submerged within a pool of water. Clients descend down into the bungalow trough a stairway that divides the pool giving a cleansing feeling, whilst physically separating the bungalow from the nature. The bungalow is designed with perfect ratios and symmetry of the square. Views are manipulated to frame the water, earth, trees and sky. Many people suffering from ocd consider natural materials such as timber to be dirty, so the interior of the building is predominantly sterile white. The windows shutters are designed however with white on one side and timber on the other so clients are able to push themselves by gradually drawing the nature in. The roof is made of beams that can be opened or closed, once again bringing in or locking out the nature. The bed is on a raised platform and is a disposable ‘it’ bed for cleanliness that after the client leaves is donated to charity. As the bungalow is submerged in water, the bathroom has aquatic views.

Warapuru addresses the whole human condition and faculties of the mind in a pro-active design, influenced by the patters and geometry of nature. Mental illness is a significant problem in Western society today and Warapuru’s consideration of subtle meaning and reason in the physical dimensions of its design and its philosophy will bring hope, healing and sanctuary to all its clients making a difference to the life and mental health of its clients.

The Architects for Health
First Student Health Design Award
was sponsored by


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