At Arcturis, we design for people. This dedication to people helps to form our design focus on all project types, with a goal of using design to improve how people live, work and experience the spaces we help to create.
Recent opportunities have allowed us to focus on projects for individuals in transition or crisis. Through collaboration with the client and evidence-based research, we create design that supports rehabilitation and treatment efforts.
The new Harris House Rehab Facility (St. Louis, MO) and ACH Child and Family Services Residential Treatment Center (Fort Worth, TX) exemplify the design thinking necessary for residential therapy settings. In these instances, the programming phase of the project is critical to developing the appropriate path for the design team to follow. Important questions define who the project is serving, how are they admitted to the facility, treatment needs, and what level of “risk” do they pose. The concept of “support” becomes central to space design versus a facility meant to “constrain.”
The use of trauma-informed care has proven to successfully reduce recidivism and allow the residents associated with these projects to thrive. Design that considers these deeply human needs can support an organization or facility’s mission to restore and support those in crisis.
There are careful design considerations that contribute to project and program success:
1. Balance of safety and desire to maintain a sense of home or place
Create a hierarchy of space that transitions from public to semi-private to private and assign levels of risk to each of those and use these levels as a guide for design decisions.
Plan for premium costs for items that may potentially impose risk but add more value towards the sense of place you are creating (ie – safety glass, anti-ligature hardware, and accessories that look more “regular” instead of detention,” well designed or even “hidden” wall protection instead of institutional looking wall protection)
Bedrooms will provide privacy and a sense of personal ownership, but staff must have some ability to monitor residents
Restrooms are the highest risk areas and their location and accessibility must be carefully considered
Consider separation of sexes and the potential impacts with both alternatives
Provide areas for gender nonconforming residents
2. Purposeful direction of traffic using floor plan design/flow to help maintain security and avoid confusion
Naturally direct residents experiencing trauma or aggression to secure outdoor space
Stringent review of door hardware to allow the appearance of free access with some control over high risk areas and to avoid escape
3. Provide ample space for staff to be able to support their residents;
Provide enough support/back of house space to simplify staff responsibilities so their focus can be on residents as needed
4. Access to outdoor space and the mix of use within that space
Balance of structured environments and open/natural/exploratory environments
Provide walking paths as a means of release
Determine if outdoor space is required to be secured and design appropriately- If secured, avoid overly intensive fencing or barriers and use people as the first line of defense
5. Natural light is critical in every room.
Private or personal space should have light and views and be able to be controlled by individual.
All education or social spaces should have natural light as a main design focus.
Incorporate high/clerestory glazing in corridors or glazing at the termination of corridors to improve how these are experienced
6. Balance of personal space and group/activity space
7. Material Palette should be durable but not feel institutional.
Use natural materials in locations that have a high aesthetic impact but are not able to be destroyed or graffiti’d
Use a more subdued or neutral color palette in therapy and residential areas, with color accents (if necessary) in the more social spaces
While each project must be approached on an individual basis, these considerations were a driving factor in the design of both projects highlighted. All design decisions ultimately related back to the goal of enabling both the ACH and Harris House teams to properly attend to their residents, and to create a space that is supportive of the necessary cognitive development for healing.
Written By: Chrissy Rogers