Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Design to Preserve Spirituality and Culture: Design and Architecture Students at Arizona State University Learned First-Hand the Importance of Understanding a Target Population before Designing a Facility

Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Design to Preserve Spirituality and Culture: Design and Architecture Students at Arizona State University Learned First-Hand the Importance of Understanding a Target Population before Designing a Facility

Article excerpt

When designing a behavioral health facility, licensing requirements, best practices and research ensure that specific measures are implemented in order to keep clients, staff and visitors safe. In addition, planning teams should think about the specifics of the population that will be treated inside the facility.

For 17 students at the Arizona State University (ASU) Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts (Tempe, Ariz.), this lesson about population needs wasn't taught by a lecture or a book, but rather through hands-on collaboration with a local treatment program. Phoenix-based Native American Connections (NAC), a not-for-profit organization that provides addiction treatment and recovery in urban and tribal communities throughout the Southwest, connected with instructors at ASU to share their priorities for design. After the meeting, the instructors at ASU and leaders of NAC were committed to the new project in which students in the design studio would produce the design concept for NAC's new facilities.

As part of a "studio" course at the design school, students from various disciplines--architecture, landscape architecture, biomedical informatics, healthcare and design research, and exercise and wellness-partnered with NAC to focus on a real-life problem.

The two-part project included a Level II mental health residential treatment center for urban Native Americans, which the students and NAC refer to as "the wellness center," and an affordable housing project called Workforce Housing. The education began with a two-week trip to Australia, where the students, three instructors and NAC Chief Executive Officer Dede Devine observed how aboriginals live. They connected with a university and met with key individuals working in the local area.

In addition to the educational trip to Australia, ASU students traveled within their own region and had the opportunity to visit the existing NAC programs in Arizona. During these visits, students were able to sit in on native traditional healing practices and cultural enhancement activities, and speak to clients in order to better understand the people who would be accessing services in the center.

"One of the biggest takeaways is that we saw how complicated and serious the problems are that these people are dealing with, and how to incorporate that [consideration] into the design of our spaces," says Alexander Tsaparis, an architecture student.

Students also learned from the administrative staff and residents who are in the facilities every day--what their expectations are, how they are using the space, and what the opportunities are for change.

Seeing some existing facilities--one was in a 1948 home that had been used for drug treatment for 35 years and the other was in a motel that was built in the 1950s--helped students see the motivation behind the new facilities and the importance of the design. "They learned from the beginning that the facility is important in the relationship, but that it's really how the facility interacts with the programming that we provide that makes the change," says Devine.

Designing for the population

The wellness center is a 60-bed holistic and co-educational program. The students designed the facility so it incorporates both the private and community functions. For example, at the front of the building, there is a family visitation and education area and areas for residents to interact with outside members of the community--case managers, parole officers, etc. There is also a community group therapy room that can be utilized for community Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings.

The private aspects of the facility provided an opportunity to integrate the culture into the space. …

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