Drawn Out: Ideation + Sketch Solutions for Mental Health Environments


ENGAGE 2023 PRACTICE + DESIGN CONFERENCE: INNOVATION LAB

Drawn Out: Ideation + Sketch Solutions for Mental Health Environments

Presented Friday, November 17, 2023, by Stephen Parker, AIA, and Shahad Sadeq, Assoc. AIA, at ENGAGE 2023 Practice + Design Conference.

Elevate, Educate, Advocate

These are the three words that began the presentation on design strategies for mental health facilities.  The question was asked: how can we as a profession use our collective knowledge and expertise to address the critical issue of mental health? 

This workshop was conducted in two parts. Part one was to listen to a patient’s experience of checking in and residing in a mental health clinic. Part two was a hands-on sketching session that considered the experience of a woman with post-partum depression.

Listen

Shahad graciously told her experience of walking into the “best” psychiatric clinic in Dallas as she struggled with a nervous breakdown. She detailed personal, yet common, experiences of everyday life in a prototypical facility that falls short of the unique needs of a mental health patient. This included spaces, objects, and social dynamics which were both simple and complex such as: doors and door locks, temperature control, color and light temperature, food and exercise options for holistic health, and group spaces that can trigger sensitivities in other patients. These issues were all framed by acknowledging the challenge that mental health care facilities face in the form of budget and staffing shortages.

How do these challenges begin to be solved? It starts with “dignity driven” solutions that give patients agency in their experiences.

Drawn Out | Unfound Door
Drawn Out | Unfound Door

Sketch

After listening to a personal experience articulated the way many patients may not be able to, the audience was asked to break out into small groups and consider the following design strategies: empathy, experiential (right type/amount of stimuli), social integrators, recovery integrated, cultural competency (i.e. access to the sky is important for many indigenous cultures), patient autonomy, co-production, nature as therapy, play, voice and choice, art as therapy, reduced barriers between patient and care-giver, and care-giver burnout.

In small groups, while considering the design strategies above, the audience discuss, wrote, and sketched graphic solutions to the following four questions for a mother with post-partum depression:

  1. What does she say and do?
  2. What does she think and feel?
  3. What does she hear?
  4. What does she see?

This profound exercise where a collective group of people sit down with pen and paper to discuss, empathize, and consider what another human’s experience might look and feel like suggests a critical methodology that we as designers should follow to design dignified spaces for our vulnerable family friends, and neighbors. The sketch session then forced us all to graphically illustrate potential solutions that might be realized in the built environment as solutions, or at the least, provide a higher sensitivity to the patients that rely on these facilities.

The results of the workshop, in addition to providing a sense of discovery for the audience, also gave the presenters additional information and data for their evolving research. This diverse panel of nationally-recognized designers and planners continue to embark on their research, experiments, and prototyping that endeavor to synthesize new design solutions for the mental health built environment.

Drawn Out | Unfound Door
Drawn Out | Unfound Door
Drawn Out | Unfound Door
Drawn Out | Unfound Door
Drawn Out | Unfound Door
Drawn Out | Unfound Door

About the Author

Matt Honegger, AIA

Matt Honegger, AIA, has been practicing architecture for 15+ years in Denver on predominantly large-scale commercial and civic projects including office, convention centers, and airports. As his career evolves, airports have become a primary focus, and he is currently working on the future of air travel as an airport designer and terminal planner.

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