By Paula Melton
Durable surfaces such as hardwood furniture and linoleum flooring help ensure longer life and better indoor air quality in domestic violence shelters. Throw rugs are easier to clean and replace and tend to have fewer toxic ingredients than carpet.
Emergency housing for survivors of domestic violence presents an unusually difficult design problem.
It needs to provide physical security while also functioning at times like a home, a preschool, a study hall, a lounge, a library, a career center, and a healthcare facility to people of widely varying ages who have only one thing in common: physical and emotional trauma so destructive that they have left their homes in order to get away from it.
While being all things to all people on a shoestring budget, the shelter also needs to aid healing—perhaps the toughest design constraint, and one many organizations are still wrestling with. Through the Building Dignity website
, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV) and Seattle-based Mahlum Architects share strategies that should help ease that struggle.
Most shelters have a philosophy of “empowerment and space to make your own decisions,” says Margaret Hobart, Ph.D., of WSCADV—but the reality can be quite the opposite because of limitations and stresses imposed by the buildings themselves. “What we found is that a lot of our programs have accumulated these really long lists of rules,” Hobart told EBN
Most of them were written to reduce tension in communal living in spaces that were not designed to accommodate that use, but the effect can be quite the opposite. Hobart has felt intuitively for years that instead of controlling people, “it is so much easier to control a physical environment—and so much more respectful.”
Working through The 1%
(a program of Public Architecture that links nonprofits with pro bono architectural services), Hobart and Mahlum’s Corrie Rosen, AIA, turned Hobart’s years of observation and research into a complete set of design strategies—and along the way discovered that many sustainable design features that make sense for a typical commercial or multifamily residential building become absolutely crucial for people in crisis.
“It’s really important for every human being to be in a beautiful environment with natural daylight,” for example, Hobart said. “Domestic violence survivors in particular are recovering from trauma and in a really hard place in their lives. Spaces for inspiration and beauty [are] critical to creating a holistic sense of well-being and scaffolding people as they move past a really hard time in their lives.”
“Sustainable strategies are really interwoven into the design of the shelter,” adds Rosen. “You get daylighting from a healing perspective and from an energy perspective. It doesn’t have to be expensive solutions or something that would require someone to start new.” The Building Dignity website focuses on strategies that can be implemented for existing sites and buildings as well as new ones, and it includes case studies of three different project types: redecorating, remodeling, and rebuilding. Some of the issues discussed:
Indoor air quality
is a major issue for domestic violence shelters, says Hobart, in part because low-income children have unusually high asthma rates. (Domestic violence occurs in all socioeconomic strata, but higher-income families tend to have more options for emergency housing.) Knowing that the indoor environment has fewer hazards, particularly for parents of children with asthma, “makes people feel more secure and grounded,” Hobart said.
is a big focus because it helps ensure fresher, more inviting spaces that don’t need constant cleaning, maintenance, and repairs. Choosing commercial-grade hardwood for flooring and other surfaces can help reduce asthma triggers as well.
Natural daylighting, biophilia, & access to nature
are critical but can be difficult to achieve on some sites due to security considerations and other limitations. The website presents a variety of solutions, such as landscape design for children that encourages outdoor exploration even in small, sheltered spaces.
Control of lighting & thermal comfort
is a common energy-conserving strategy. But for survivors of domestic violence, regaining control over personal space and comfort represents much more and is an opportunity for healing.
opens crucial social and economic opportunities for residents without cars.
The website breaks down the strategies into five categories—site design, communal space, kitchen, private space, and staff space—and discusses how to bring each one into alignment with a shelter’s mission, focusing on empowerment, security, connections with others, parenting, and meeting diverse needs. The design of the site itself, Rosen says, reflects the multidisciplinary nature and the complexity of the design problem.
“When we first met with Margaret, we were thinking more of a book,” she said. “But it felt very linear.” On the website, you “move quickly between different strategies and see that adding a window or opening assists with parenting and
assists with communication for someone with a disability who can’t hear. One strategy has multiple benefits.”
The design guidelines can be found at http://buildingdignity.wscadv.org
June 21, 2012
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