Architecture Students Design for Prevention and Rehabilitation

Hana Saifullah's model

Architecture students in Professor Julia Robinson’s (Architecture) Studio V are preparing design proposals to reconsider how to serve youth presently in Hennepin County’s juvenile detention and rehabilitation centers.

For Robinson, the studio is the culmination of a long-term personal interest in the effects of institutional housing. “In the 1980s I worked with a psychologist to create guidelines for what we called a “normal house” rather than an institution, this led to a long-term project where I studied a lot of different types of housing and tried to understand what it meant to be in an institution.” After meeting Hennepin County Project Coordinator Angela Cousins last year, Robinson invited her to participate in a design studio in the School of Architecture to further research the topic of juvenile rehabilitation centers.

“One of the most exciting aspects of this studio has been conducting the primary research,” said Tyler Gaeth. “In other design studios, the research phase of the process begins and ends in the pre-design phase of the project but in this studio, the research has been ongoing. Every decision we make as designers is justified through our research inquiries and backed up by evidence.”

Students in the studio have visited two Hennepin County facilities, including one for youth and a Hazelden Betty Ford Adolescent Treatment Center, interviewed mental health professionals, parents of incarcerated youth, and design professionals to help inform their designs. “We’ve heard from a child psychiatrist, architects that are experts in designing prisons and behavioral health centers, superintendents of juvenile detention centers, parents of children who have been in the system, and the people who are making reforms to the Hennepin County detention system,” explained Hana Saifullah. “Listening and asking countless questions has been extremely eye-opening and given us a lot of information that you can’t read in a book or off of a website,” she continued.

The experiences have been crucial for helping students not only understand the current system, but also the perspective of the individuals who live and interact with current juvenile rehabilitation structures. “The research we are conducting has allowed my design to evolve beyond any preconceptions I had about the needs of a given group and to develop an intervention from a foundation of evidence,” said Gaeth.

Research conducted by the students helped them generate ideas and brought validity to their work and design decisions. “When we are able to back up our designs with precedents that have made positive impacts, it’s more compelling to the individuals to which we are presenting. It makes everything more purposeful,” explained Saifullah.

At the end of the semester, the students will present their final designs to various professionals, including architects, youth mental health experts, and county administrators as well as to community members. In the meantime, Saifullah and Gaeth do have two preliminary suggestions:

“My broad recommendation would be for society to stop using juvenile detention centers as a catch-all for any problem a kid may be facing. Each person needs to be looked at holistically. What is their family situation? Where do they live? Do they have a mental illness that needs to be addressed? The answers to these questions could warrant a different path than placement in a detention center,” explained Saifullah.

“While we have identified the lack of prevention services in the community as the most important area for improvement, many of the current youth incarceration facilities in operation are outdated or were constructed under the old pretext of punishment. Changing these physical environments would go a long way toward pushing forward a new agenda of rehabilitation and healing,” concluded Gaeth.

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