Updated – Architects Design Buildings To Welcome People Shunned By Society

A white-painted old church
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The Path Home Family Center, where the interior has been renovated using 'trauma informed design.'

In July this year, we published a story about trauma informed architecture. Now we have another. Why so soon?

This time, there is another linked article that adds new information that could be helpful for people who are running shelters as well as the people who stay in them. The article identifies renovations to make congregate shelters safer and more comfortable for people who are staying in them.

It includes recent research about how architectural design affects the way our brains work. How can this help? Here’s just one example. Many emergency shelters provide large rooms lined with beds or bunks for sleeping. Dividing a large room up with walls (think office cubicles) and designating a space for a person to sleep and store their possessions can make a big difference. The changes allow the brain to switch off high alert. Sleeping becomes a possibility. The changes also allow the thinking and planning parts of the brain to come on line. People are more able to make plans for their future and act on them.

You can read the full article in The Conversation: Shelters Can Help Homeless People By Providing Quiet And Privacy, Not Just A Bunk And A Meal

See below for our earlier post about Trauma Informed Architecture.

Architecture has been used to rebuff groups of people who society considers undesirable1. Homeless people are a popular target. But architects can design spaces that are welcoming, and are sometimes referred to as trauma-informed2. Four articles linked to this post demonstrate this approach.

All of the examples are from the United States. Reading them through together, two common features emerge:

    • The designers spent time up front to understand physical design features that have a negative impact for the client population.
    • The design features (which include specific colours, curves and natural light) don’t add much, if anything, cost to the buildings.

Here are a few details about the projects discussed in the linked articles:

    1. A homeless shelter for families, which is situated in a former church in Portland. The article focusses on families that have used the shelter. It also celebrates the experiences of the founder, who was inspired by a work placement during her junior year at college. The story is published by CNN: This could be the most beautiful homeless shelter you have ever seen, and it’s getting results
    2. A health clinic in Minneapolis, which serves LGBTQ2S people from the city and surrounding seven states. People who come to the clinic often have histories of negative experiences at health clinics. The sources in the article describe the process they used to gather input and the attention to small design details that are intended to offer safety and support to clients. You can read more at Metropolis: Applied Trauma Informed Design to Serve the LGBTQIA+ Community
    3. A supportive housing project for ex-prisoners in Aurora, Colorado, which is just east of Denver. This project is designed to break the prison-homelessness pipeline. It offers programming space as well as apartments for men discharged from prison. The article is posted by Bloomberg: Buildings That Can Heal in the Wake of Trauma
    4. A tour of three different projects in Virginia. The one particularly relevant to this post is the last one, which is a shelter for girls and young women who have been involved in sex trafficking. It is due to open in 2024. Read more at 3WTKR: A Place to Feel Safe: See the local hospital and shelters designed with trauma in mind


  1. Try: Spotting Architecture That Encourages Homeless People To ‘Move On’ and Is There a Difference Between Hostile Architecture and Torture?
  2. Trauma-informed is an evolving term. Read more in archdailyForm Follows Feeling: Trauma-Informed Design and the Future of Interior Spaces