March 24, 2015
CHAMPCEVRAIS — On the village square, just a few steps from a magnificent tree, a small group of people are chatting over coffee. Close by, others are reading or napping, curled up in curvy wooden deck chairs. It's an almost ordinary countryside scene.
Almost. The village square, around which this community is organized, is covered by a zinc vault with a glass roof and skylights. This is the heart of a unique building where 18 people with autism, aged from 20 to 60, have been living since November 2014.
The arrangement — the curves, materials, colors, lights, furniture — has all been designed to create a peaceful setting for the residents, whose sensory hypersensitivity in particular has been taken into account.
"I was obsessed by one thing, that the residents don't feel as if they're in a hospital, locked-in," designer-architect Emmanuel Negroni says during a guided tour. "So I removed the hallways, which can be anxiety-provoking, and imagined a system made up of elliptical vaults that bring volume while being protective."
Built in the middle of the countryside, near the small village of Champcevrais two hours south of Paris, this residential facility was named "The awakening of the beetle" ("l'Eveil du scarabée," in French), in reference to the shape of the building and what this insect symbolizes: resurrection. To keep echoes and other noise to a minimum — because they are often sources of stress or even pain for people with autism — the architect used perforated sheeting walls (sound traps) lined with acoustic insulation, a system used in concert venues.
The ceilings have been equipped with plasterboard with acoustic properties. Negroni had no knowledge of autism before the project but conducted painstaking research, which also included deep consideration of the colors and lighting.
Programming the atmosphere
For those familiar with the impersonal, pale or greenish atmosphere of many care facilities, it may come as a shock to learn that this facility features not just an abundance of natural light but also views of the surrounding nature and the sky. But it can also be subdued so as not to be aggressive.
The architect used LED lights for the artificial lighting, "which make it possible to program the atmosphere like you want," Negroni notes. "You can choose a stimulating light in the morning and softer in the evening. It's even possible to select color codes corresponding to different times of the day, at mealtimes for instance. These signs can be useful for those who have trouble setting themselves in time."
Around the central square and its tree, the more specific rooms — infirmary, computer room, sensory room with balneotherapy — are glowing. There is also a restaurant, with a bar and a therapeutic kitchen. The private spaces are organized into five "houses," each comprised of four individual bedrooms with bathrooms.
"One of the challenges was to erase the medical aspect, all the while conforming to the needs and regulations, which are very restrictive for this type of building, and without going over the 2,000-euro-per-square-meter budget," the architect explains.
Just a few months ago, most of the residents lived a few kilometers from here, at a former farm. "I wanted them to be able to choose their rooms, and when they arrived, we symbolically handed over the keys," says facility director Jean-Pierre Sanchis. "For many, it's the first time they've had a real home."
A therapeutic building
The patients are delighted to show off their apartments. Dominique is particularly proud of his wall television and bedside lamp. "For 10 years, he used to disassemble radio sets, televisions, outlets, a countless number," Sanchis says. "When he arrived here, this disorder disappeared."
The manager embraces the idea that a building can be therapeutic. "It's a member of the team," he insists. Adeline Moneuse, a senior employee of the facility, also talks about obvious changes in the behavior of residents: they're calmer, have fewer aggressive outbreaks and tend to sleep better.
Will the medical benefits of this environment persist and will they ever be objectively assessed? It would undoubtedly be the greatest reward for the manager and for village Mayor Pierre Denis, who fought for nearly 10 years in support of this pioneering project, which has been heavily criticized by certain local politicians. In the end, it cost 4.2 million euros, "in the higher range for this building category," Sanchis says.
But it hasn't escaped notice for its groundbreaking role. On March 3, Negroni received a prestigious architecture award (ArchiDesignClub Awards 2015) in the health facilities category.
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food / travel
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson
October 26, 2021
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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