Trauma Informed Design

One of the hardest things a person experiencing domestic violence will ever have to do is leave their abuser. In addition to the emotional turmoil of finding a safe, secure, and welcoming place to live, survivors are often forced to leave their communities (and support systems) when seeking shelter.

Recently, as part of YWCA of Greater Cincinnati’s Career Women of Achievement event programming, I was honored to share some details about the new shelter we’re designing with the YWCA in Cincinnati’s Avondale neighborhood. The new shelter will not only support new systems of healing for survivors of domestic abuse, but also provide families access to additional services and public transportation and maintain existing routines for working and going to school.

Creating a welcoming refuge requires understanding the unique needs of families who have experienced trauma.

GBBN and the YWCA approached the redesign of the existing building by first asking how we could make the spaces safe and secure, without creating a sense of surveillance. And while the individual apartments provide for essential privacy needs, survivors also need a variety of communal spaces to seek each other out for socializing or support on their own terms. It’s important to consider even minor, often overlooked, details that can support residents’ sense of choice and control over their surroundings. For example, adjusting the lighting with dimmer switches or changing the temperature of their space via a thermostat or a ceiling fan are acts that subtly nurture feelings of self-empowerment while offering comfort.

These considerations result in a shelter where survivors can live a life that is as close to their “normal” as possible while being safe from their abusers. It’s designed to be safe and secure, but also beautiful.

You can learn more about this project and the work the YWCA does to eliminate racism and empower women, by watching this video

A capital campaign is in the planning stages, but you can support this project now with a lead gift by going here.

Mary Jo Minerich is an associate at GBBN. Her design approach is rooted in empathy and research. In addition to leading GBBN’s approach to housing research and post occupancy evaluations, she works with clients and design teams to articulate project goals that positively impact community equity and resilience. Mary Jo has leveraged her expertise working in historic districts to facilitate conversations about how these districts can meet tomorrow’s needs while helping us explore our relationship with the past. Learn about some of Mary Jo’s other projects here.