Designing for: Trauma-Informed Design (Season 1, Episode 5)

Inclusive Designers Podcast
Inclusive Designers Podcast
Designing for: Trauma-Informed Design (Season 1, Episode 5)
  • Edited by: Matthew Bogart
  • Guest: J. Davis Harte, PhD

What does ‘trauma-informed’ mean, and how can design help create a comforting, supportive and safe space for those who feel vulnerable during trauma recovery? J. Davis Harte, PhD joins us to discuss trauma-informed design, and walks us through her designs for a former bank redesigned to be an abuse intervention center for children and youth.

Topics covered in this episode: trauma-informed design, acoustics, design details, PTSD and safety.

J. Davis Harte, PhD is an applied and theoretical designer, advisor and educator. Her career focus is on trauma-sensitive design in child-centered settings, merging the knowledge of trauma-informed practices with the latest on evidence-based design. The people who benefit from the spaces she informs are often misunderstood and marginalized.


Additional References:

  • Ulrich Study- Ulrich, R. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery. Science224(4647), 224-225.
  • Curvilinear Furniture- Dazkir, S. S., & Read, M. A. (2012). Furniture forms and their influence on our emotional responses toward interior environments. Environment and Behavior44(5), 722-732.
  • Attention Restoration Theory- Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1989). The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. CUP Archive; Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of environmental psychology15(3), 169-182.

Additional Reading:


Designing for: Trauma-Informed Design
Guest: J. Davis Harte, PhD


Janet: In this series we will be discussing specific examples of design techniques that can make a positive difference for people living with certain human conditions.

Carolyn: The more a designer understands the client and or the community, the more effective and respectful the design will be.

(music up full, then lower)

Janet: Welcome to Inclusive Designers Podcast, I’m your host Janet Roche.

Carolyn: And I’m your moderator, Carolyn Robbins. Designing a center for those suffering from abuse or trauma is a very serious undertaking. What are the design factors to consider to make an already stressful environment less stressful, especially for children?

Janet: We asked Dr. J Davis Harte to take us through the process and research and the design decisions she implemented for just this type of clinic.

Carolyn: Dr. Harte is an expert in creating comfortable and supportive spaces with a current focus on those touched by trauma. Here’s a little bit more on her background and her qualifications: Dr. J. Davis Harte is a leading wellness design educator who bridges evidence and practice with work in children’s places, Trauma informed spaces and also in birth environments. She holds a PHD in Health with a design focus from the University of Technology in Sydney, an M.S. in design and human environment interiors from Oregon State University. She minored in free-choice learning and in human development and family sciences. Dr. Harte has a deep and broad knowledge about attention restoration theory, biophilia, salutogenic design, symbolic interactionism, neuro endo hormonal systems, space and place making, and all things related to environment behavior, especially for marginalized populations and children.

Janet: In today’s discussion we highlight how design played its part in helping a center for abuse victims which often includes children to move beyond such difficult situations.

(Music- Transition to Interview)

Janet: Welcome to Inclusive Designers Podcast. I am your host Janet Roach and today’s guest is J. Davis Harte. Dr. Harte from Corvallis Oregon. Welcome Dr. Harte.

Davis: Thank you.

Janet: Please tell our listeners a little bit about yourself.

Davis: I am a wellness designer. I specialize in spaces intended for children, youth and those who have experienced traumas or typically reside in the margins of society. So my work recently has been very focused on trauma informed design.

Janet: And for our listeners, explain to us what is trauma-informed design.

Davis: Well, the last five to eight years or so there’s been an increase in people’s understanding of what goes on in a person if they’ve experienced trauma. It started back a little bit longer ago than that with the very getting famous study called ‘adverse childhood experiences’, ACEs. Folks in lots of different sectors and fields have been interested in creating trauma informed practices. So, if you were to do a little keyword search on trauma informed, you might come up with quite a bit of trauma informed yoga and trauma informed policy and practices. So along with some other thinkers around the world just in the last little while, trauma informed design seems to be one of the threads that connects all of these different spaces. People have understood how the experience is in the prison system, in housing sectors, in advocacy and abuse centers and that sort of thing. So it’s, it’s an understanding of how a person experiences trauma, what goes on with their neuro hormonal processes, how they might behave, what they exhibit and how a physical environment might either deter that and minimize the traumatic experiences and start to facilitate a person’s healing. They can have re-wired neuro hormones and neural processes that might reduce the amount of triggering that they have. Or conversely, physical environments might continue to perpetuate the problem.

Janet: Right. So, why don’t we kind of start a little bit from the beginning. So, what exactly is trauma. And how does it affect the brain and then let’s talk a little bit more about then how that affects us in terms of the built environment. So, can you speak a little to that.

Davis: Sure. What is trauma… we have, stress in and of itself has, it does have a bit of a bad rap. It’s something that day to day we all need to have to a certain degree but when we talk about chronic stress loads it changes the Allostatic load of an individual that they might be bearing such a large stress load and multiple realms in their own personal life that it can start to trigger an increase in their adrenaline which is one of the hormones that (Janet: the fight or flight response). It does exactly, it sets off the fight, flight or freeze response. Again, these can be, you know, we’ve learned more and more about how originally this was very helpful from our ancestors’ standpoint. But current, current times we have a different level of interaction with tigers and the elements. So, our modern-day living is still hasn’t quite evolved to, to remind us that we are safe, and we do have support around us, and we have less immediate dangers than our ancestors did.

Janet: Right, well, safe to a degree. I mean I think like you mentioned you’ve got a lot of clients who maybe or perhaps are on the fringe or marginalized, you know, they’re not always feeling as safe as maybe some other parts of the population. So, but it’s yeah, it’s an incredible change and we’re still evolving, and we now have to try to figure out what to do with the built environment in order to make us actually indeed feel safe and, and comforted.

Davis: Yeah, and in the last 50 years people have been putting out literature and research studies on Environment and Behavior. I was fortunate to just spend a few days in Brooklyn at the Environmental Design Research Association conference. So, people have been very curious and motivated to learn as much as we can about how the designed environment around us in which we live will affect people. But it’s only in the last, like I mentioned, maybe not even quite a decade that, the last five years I’d say, that the terminology trauma informed design is something that’s just getting a little bit of momentum. Which is very exciting because it’s and you can look at it from multiple keywords. You know we’ve got resilient design or therapeutic design is another side of the same coin. Salutogenic design, salutogenic being the opposite of pathogenic. So instead of focusing on what’s wrong with people and focusing on illness, rather let’s have the frame of mind to first focus on what’s going well and how can we get the momentum in that direction.

Janet: Right. Well you spoke a little bit about research, and I think it might be helpful for the listener to understand a little bit about what kind of research do you use and look at in order to create your designs.

Davis: That is a great question. It is a range of different types of studies because, you know, if you think about your built space in the room, what you’re, where you’re sitting there are so many different features in that space that to just look solely at the carpeting and not look at the rest of the space, won’t paint a full complete picture of what it’s like to be in that that room. So, I like to try to find a balance of quantitative and qualitative. So, I want to know people’s experiences and hear their stories of what the physical environment is doing for them or with them. There’s, there’s a, certainly for trauma informed design like I mentioned there’s, there’s quite a bit of research coming out about prison and secure environments settings. There isn’t a lot out yet about school design. In fact, I contributed to a chapter for a book coming out by Oxford supporting and educating traumatized students. A Guide for school-based professionals. So, it’s really just an evolving field right now. So, we have to borrow from our cousin fields when we look at well how is the outcomes for instance for neonatal intensive care units. I might look at what, you know, how the newborn in a critical care situation might be, you know what sort of physical outcomes they might have earlier releases and that sort of thing. Now they have a different set of needs than do kids in a school or in another setting. So, it is it is a matter of looking broadly and then really getting to understand how this might be transferable to the population at hand.

Janet: Right. You know you talked about prisons and I think it’s an interesting topic. I don’t want to go into the weeds too much but can you can you explain to the listeners a little bit more about maybe what is being done and I think what I understood from what you were saying is that there’s just not a lot of actual research that’s out there. But for me I find that the prison is a particular topic when we can talk a little bit about some of the stuff that you’re doing going forward. But that’s been a pretty traditional type of space. I think that they’ve changed it a bit maybe in the last hundred years maybe with the advent of electricity, but it I gotta believe though that we can do a little bit better in terms of design in order to create better spaces to calm the central nervous system, to calm the prisoners in order to really help to rehabilitate them as opposed to creating these extreme and stressful environments. Anyway, your thoughts on that?

Davis: Yeah, I mean that there’s some overlapping theories because you look at different settings and you’ll have different needs from those settings. You know some are going to be highly constraining and may not provide freedom compared comparatively to a different setting. So, it’s very much a matter of being able to assess and evaluate the population at hand that one is designing for and not just put some cookie cutter approach on them. (J: Right). That said once you know what sort of constraints or behaviors you want in the case of prisons would be ideal for rehabilitation and reintegration into society to be the primary goal. But you know all of that said, for me personally I do feel that it’s very beneficial to be up to date on the design theories and the theoretical thinking that can inform any space, as I said, adapted to that population. So, for instance one of the most famous studies out there is done from a hospital recovery room where the patients had either a view of a brick wall or they had a view of trees (J: Trees, right). So that Ulrich study shows that when patients had a view from their window of nature than they were had much better outcomes. I can’t recall exactly but they were released earlier and reported less perceptions of pain that sort of thing. (J: Right). So we’re getting them better understanding of what kind of nature and what kind of access to nature might be beneficial to any population Along those lines, I have a colleague that did a study on shapes of furniture and she reported that the preference for curve-a-linear furniture was because there was there is a deeper seated subconscious feeling of both engagement with the space and calming. So rather than being sedated so calm that it’s you know you’re asleep, but no they felt a bit engaged and activated. So that sort of information is theoretical, but it quickly can be transferred to actual design applications.

Janet: Right. We will go and post all the information on the website Inclusive-Designers-dot-com, but that was one of the first things I learned about design and one of the most incredible things I had ever heard. The recovery was quicker and there was less need for pain medication which I just found just mind-blowing. it shouldn’t be that simple but apparently it is. And the other one like you said the shape of the furniture. That was another one that I learned really early on which was I think also part of the rounded furniture is also it felt more homey to people and therefore more calming which was which is just kind of interesting to me as well.

Davis: Yeah. And some of the other important theories that I like to implement are the perceptions of control that a person has over the space. If you have a constrained environment, take the prisoners for example, you know you, you can still provide opportunities for them to have some perceived control that doesn’t give them a larger control over where they can go whenever they want. So, perceptions of control, the option to provide some positive distractions. (J: Right) This is something that comes from the attention restoration theory by Kaplan and Kaplan out of Michigan and they discuss that are we have the ability to have this fascination occur if there’s a few different relevant systems in place to do so and then we can have a hard fascination at a at a car accident for instance, you can’t help but pay attention. But ideally we have in around in our built environment lots of opportunities for soft fascination that allows a person to take a break from their focus and when they get attention fatigue they can become irritable and make poor decisions and be less productive for instance and that sort of thing. So maybe you know having a nap that doesn’t exactly always help them regain their attention because it’s a different type of fatigue, but getting away from it in a way that can be captured with fish tanks for instance or the presence of houseplants, that sort of thing can start to we don’t quite understand yet the mechanisms for how this is all happening, but it does show that having these positive distractions can be very helpful.

Janet: Right. I know you and I have talked off-line a little bit about some of the project you’re going to start working on. So, I realize it’s still new in the process about the Juvenile Home or can you explain, talk a little bit about what you’re doing with that.

Davis: That’s just getting underway now. It’s an adolescent facility that has believed that they had really nailed this recent building that is only four or five years old. But the reality of the post occupancy they’ve been living there and working there as staff for four or five years now, and they realize there’s a number of issues that they, they hadn’t anticipated. So, they’re bringing me on board to do some assessments and consult on how that space itself can be improved upon as is without doing any structural changes and planning ahead, lessons learned and so forth for a new building that’s being slated. right.

Janet: Well we’ll have to have you back when you’re maybe halfway even through it. I think it would be a fascinating discussion for a later point in time. (J: Sure). Why don’t you also now switching not gears necessarily we’re still on trauma informed design, but please talk to us a little bit about the project that you did with the intervention for women and the abuse that they had suffered and was it some sort of intervention clinic.

Davis: Yeah. It is actually it’s a space that is an Abuse Intervention Center for Children and Youth. So, if there’s something the family feels needs to be intervened in some ways somehow is brought to the attention of the ABC house. It’s located in Albany Oregon and they’re happy for me to share the work that (J: Terrific) that has happened here. It’s a very proactive place that aims to work with families who are referred to their services. So, they have, the clients have appointments set up and it’s a place that offers a way to assess what might be going on in the child’s life. And of course, it’s a place that many of the users of the space, as we say— I mean they’re they are people, but the terminology is user— so how they might have a heightened trauma background or experiences. So, it’s has a multi-purpose, the building itself has multi purposes that it needs to serve it has civilian social workers and it has officers and detectives and all sorts of folks coming in to help work as a team to help this particular child and family.

It’s a multi-year project and that they saw that they had outgrown their building and the services they’re able to offer we’re just too limited. So they were able to purchase, It’s actually an adaptive reuse because it used to be it’s been vacant for a few years the building was a bank in the 80s, two floors across from the courthouse very big imposing looking building, expanded the square footage tremendously and they could increase their staff and so forth. So, it took a brave leader and that was that was the director of ABC house who saw this opportunity and had the vision and got it, got the ball rolling. They had hired the architect who was a colleague of mine and a friend of mine. Early on before they knew whether or not the project would ever happen, she asked me if I had any evidence to help inform what the curb appeal, how that building itself could look less imposing, less intimidating (J: Right). And I was able to do a literature review for her and look through the evidence that I had and give some recommendations for how I thought we could make the building appear more friendly from afar. So, I just sat back and got busy with other things for a while. She said she’d get in touch with me if anything came to pass and sure enough, they got a capital campaign with so much support from the community and from businesses all around the valley. So, I was just so gratified and felt so grateful that I was able to be their environmental designer for the whole project and work in tandem with, with everybody.

There’s not just an immediate transferrable set of evidence for abuse intervention centers, so I borrowed from very closely related fields. And so, you have evidence, I mean I have a bibliographic system on my computer with multiple thousands of different articles all relating to design, to learning, to stress, to attention, to well-being, resilience, neuro- hormonal processes. So, as much as possible, I based all the design recommendations on evidence. And it takes, it takes a bit of time but I’m so fortunate that the team who hired me wanted to make sure that, that was in place and understood and appreciated from the beginning. So, having an evidence-based wellness designer at the helm was something that was a priority for them. And it was just a match made in heaven.

I remember at one of the early meetings speaking with the people who are going to do the plumbing and they were saying ‘oh I wonder what kind of toilets we should get for the space’ And I had an opinion about that based on evidence, not just my preference that if they’re dealing with a highly stressed traumatized population that would be important to not have sensors on toilets can be very disruptive for kids. (J: And why is that?) Even kids that haven’t experienced trauma, because it’s out of their control when know when it might flush so it can be very scary. So that sort of level of detail happened for about a year and a half and the doors opened in March. We have two different zones that weave through the building to represent at what stage the clients are going through. so, there’s an underwater section and there’s an above water nautical theme and those connect together just seamlessly. It’s, it’s a beautiful, beautiful building. They’re opening their doors for tours regularly every Tuesday because of the demand for wanting to go check it out, what it looks like in there.

Janet: That’s terrific…

Davis: It’s amazing. I’m just, still my jaws on the floor that I got to work on such a cool project, (J: Yeah), I couldn’t have done it alone though.

Janet: I know, well can you talk a little, I mean I love that story about the bathroom and the toilets, and those are just it’s just a small little design element that means a big a big deal for this particular type of environment. Can you give our listeners other examples of that kind of consideration.

Davis: Sure. Yeah. I mean designers need to be able to talk about toilets. That’s for sure.

Janet: We should all be able to talk about toilets.

Davis: because a person living there, in this case visiting during the day, nobody resides overnight, but the staff are there day after day and the visitors come through and spend two to three hours at their intake appointment and then they come back later for counselling. One area that we saw right away that would need extra attention was the way the parking spaces are designed. There used to be a drive through from the bank. So, it’s underneath the second floor and you can imagine that being, not very welcoming to drive into an undercover parking area. So we paid a lot of attention to, of course, how many lights would be there, so it’d be protected from people who might be walking around at night and might feel like going and messing around in this space that’s protected from the rain, but during the day how it would appeal to people was, there’s a huge wall that we were fortunate to secure a local artist who did just a gorgeous mural and she based it on our, our input. So, we had some concept development through the course of a few weeks where we talked about, ‘oh a little bit more like this, a little bit more like that, not so much this’… And she just came up with some great sketches that we were happy to see her bring to life.

Janet: Can you explain to us what was on the mural. What specifically was on the mural.

Davis: … first main, that main mural, because she ended up doing three more murals inside of the building, but the main one outside is a view of the ocean with land you know as if you are walking along a trail to get to the beach…

Janet: So, its Biophilia back to biophilia…

Davis: we worked with some Oregon coast scenes so it would be a local thing. We didn’t want to transport somebody to some, ‘let’s go live in the Caribbean’, because this is their life, they live here and this we want to make it meaningful to them (J: Right. Good point). Yeah. It’s amazing, and within that she got to be playful and add some, because our goals from the beginning some of our adjectives were whimsical yet dignified, professional. They know they’ll be taken care of but it’s there’s still a level of whimsy throughout the building that helps us remember that you know there’s plenty of opportunity for healing and resilience.

Janet: Right… This is great. So, I love the fact that we’re sort of essentially at the front door. We’re in the, you know, we’re under the awning where the old bank teller used to be. Now I’m assuming that’s the entrance and if so then take our listeners through it… how do you enter the building and what are the design considerations for the entry? I’m assuming that there’s some kind of reception desk.

Davis: Sure, we wanted one main entry that was very easy to find, so there’s not any uncertainty on the part of a brand-new visitor, they wouldn’t feel worried about where they should go, it’d just be completely obvious. It’s a store front window so glass metal doors, fairly standard nothing you know off the top of the shelf design wise but because of all the elements around it became it became communicated. There’s a lot of communication going on by the built environment around us. There’s another door that’s painted over with the mural far, far to the right which is for staff use. So, it’s not easy to see but staff are there every day and they know that’s the spot that they can go in and out. But there’s a high tech level to this building where there’s plenty of video monitoring, so people can see who’s, the woman at the reception desk can see who’s coming and then throughout upstairs there’s similar high level of technology that’s supporting the work of the people at the ABC house.

Janet: And do you think in terms of the type of building that it is, and it’s supposed to be in trying to, in conveying safety and that this is a safe place, did you find that some of the, having all those monitors and having all the video and keeping an eye on all that, was that necessary, was it necessary for the area, was it just necessary in order to help people feel like they’re being watched, or do you feel like maybe that even somehow counterproductive?

Davis: That’s a good question. I mean I might not really be able to address it you know honestly, but in this case, it was, it is necessary for the services that they provide (J: Right.) and then they’re not you know being watched and having hyper surveillance over a person is not good for ones’ stress levels. We see that in birth unit design which is my other field of research. So, it’s not obvious to the visitor that there are, there are these levels of surveillance, but again, it is something that we feel like we really succeeded with and we’ll see as time goes by. But the visitor will feel when they walk in that they’re welcome and this is a cool place. There’s something about it that just feels not like a medical institution (J: Right.) and that they’re also being taken care of. They’re greeted and they’re escorted where they need to go. So, there’s still a strong level of constraint that happens over the visitors’ experience and that’s part of the staff and the policies of their services. So, design is never something that just comes and solves all the problems. (J: Right.) This is not, that’s not ever the intention of great design. It’s there to support the work of the people who are trained and able to navigate this sort of work.

Janet: So, you’ve now walked into the building … What are some of the other design elements that you put into the front of the waiting area, the reception area that were considered in order to be maybe even thought of as the trauma informed design?

Davis: Yeah, we spent a lot of time discussing the journey of the client before we really even got into the details of the design. So, knowing the path that they would travel and what typically would happen at each part and phase of their experience, let us know that at the very beginning it would be about not a lot of sitting around and waiting. So, there are a few chairs that show ‘hey sit down and rest’ and there’s a bathroom we can see just right beyond the fish tank. We had a donor who is very important to them that we have a large free-standing fish tank which we were thrilled to provide for them. That’s a, that’s a great thing to work on. So, we have 120-gallon cylinder tank just off to the side. So, there’s something that sort of pulls people in and intrigues them and right away it gives them something to look at and talk about and not focus on their worries and their overthinking of what’s happening. (J: Right) To go with the theme throughout their whole building, except for some of the rooms that needed hard floors, the carpeting has a pattern on it that is bold but looks cohesive when it’s on the floor and it’s part of the background. And that’s a concentric circle in a sort of a French blue reminiscent of ripples or oceanic water or water elements. So, echoing from there starting in the lobby when you first walk in and going through all of the hallways but not necessarily going into any of the interior rooms. On the ceilings, we took advantage of acoustic ceiling clouds as they’re called. They come in a wide variety of colors and shapes and you can pick and choose how you’d like them to go. So, we spend a lot of time working on the levels. We’ve got circles for all of them and we have a variety of colors and shapes and those are part of what communicates the theme to the staff and to the, to the clients.

Janet: When you talk about levels are you talking about acoustic levels within the within the rooms or within…

Davis: Well what I mean in that case was the height distance from the gap between the ceiling (J: Right) and the distance from the fire sprinklers and all of this was meticulously planned out so that it would be appealing visually, and look interesting, but not be, you know certainly to want anything that looks disruptive or not quite right. So, we wanted it to look just very cohesive and it does. And as far as acoustic levels go, that was something that was also a systems wide thinking from the beginning (J: Right). HVAC folks were very detailed. I mean everybody that worked on the project just went above and beyond to make it just, it’s just an amazing space. So, for instance, HVAC decided to do multiple runs through instead of having a one big connection because of the importance of privacy and the need for sound to not travel.

Janet: Right, I always find that sound is one of those, sound and light are very interesting in terms of designing for human health. Maybe you can speak a little bit more about the acoustics and why is that important. I mean besides maybe like a HIPA situation where you’re in one room and somebody else is in the other room and you don’t want to have the transfer of information going from one room to the other. That aside, talk to our listeners just a little bit about the acoustics and the benefits of having you know a quiet environment and why the HVAC, actually I’m quite impressed that you thought that far to think you know the HVAC also needs to be something to be considered and you know and the sound sometimes of it just starting up unlike the toilet. You know they mean to just automatically just, right.

Davis: Yeah, I mean acoustics throughout are you know again… this is a collaborative effort from the beginning, and it maintained that level through the end. I mean our superintendent on the job site had some design influence over some of the spaces because it was, it worked with what we were going for. So, acoustically speaking, I mean we definitely chose carpeting because of that we knew that that would absorb, we didn’t want things to be an echo-ey hall like a hospital site that can just immediately set people a feeling of unease. So, our choices of fabrics for the chairs needed to both be able to handle any sort of childhood spills or lice or any, you know, need to have great cleanability. But again, the modern options just keep impressing me because you could have great color selection, great acoustical properties, good looks and functionality (J: Comfortable). There’s no need for either/or anymore.

Two, I want to give an example of how the acoustics were challenging in two rooms in particular, which are the rooms where the forensic interviews happen. They videotape and record the interactions between the child or youth and the interviewer. And it felt very echo-y when things were getting more finalized. So we adapted and, we couldn’t necessarily, because of the nature of what is going on in there, we couldn’t just stack a bunch of you know stuffed animals along the shelves to absorb the sound particularly, because that would perhaps be leading or the child might think, ‘oh if I’m good I’ll get a stuffed animal’ sort of situation right. (J: Right). So there’s that level of complexity that needed to be attended to. So what we did was take some of the ceiling cloud material. We had a surplus in just the right color. So, we had, that was one of the things the superintendent helped with, and cut circles, smaller shapes circles that we put on the walls. And that allowed for both the aesthetics of looking a bit like bubbles happening in the water and the color and something positively distracting to look at and say ‘ha it’s a random arrangement of these circles, smalls and mediums and larges on the wall’, but also it helps for dampening the sound. So, the recordings could be more crisp and more accurate, which is just very important in this in this work.

Janet: Right. You know at the risk of sounding like I’m kind of obsessed with bathrooms, you know, I know that bathrooms in particular— for full disclosure, Davis and I have worked on a middle school— and one of the things that we recognize is that there is a couple of different places in middle schools where kids most feel unsafe and one of them happens to be the bathrooms and of course the bathroom is acoustically challenged. We’ll just throw that down. Did you do anything in the bathrooms to help with the acoustics in there or was there something that you were able to maybe create that would maybe make the bathrooms a little less of a frightening place?

Davis: Well, I mean, we’re fortunate in that, there’s not a huge, it doesn’t get a huge number of people coming and going, so it doesn’t have high usage like a school would or some other setting. And they’re also supervised, so you know, I mean there’s nobody in the bathroom with the kid, but the kid is brought down there, or the child is brought down with the adults. So we have linoleum floors which are slightly better. And I had a long conversation with the flooring folks to help determine which of the hard surface flooring would be best at acoustic dampening and not have a lot of reverberations happening (J: Right). And this is the level of detail that they know. this is their, this is their material. They work with flooring and they know, and they have measurements you can see on their websites to say which has a better acoustical properties. So, as much as we can make choices about it, we did. You know there’s, aside from having mirrors that have a really cool seashell type oceanic theme to the frame of them, there’s not a lot about the bathrooms that would be you know mind blowing and say ‘wow that was how they manage that is really impressive’. There are plenty of them in there in the right spaces so there can be to get to. But you don’t have any examples other than having knowing that the flooring is a good part of absorbing it that it would that would help, and that the HVAC being in smaller sections so it doesn’t have a long corridor to travel to some other part of the, part of the building is part of it.

Janet: That’s interesting. Well, would you like to add anything else about the particular project?

Davis: Sure, sure, I mean the only, there’s tons of great details there. But one of the things that is really effective, for some of the staff whose offices are on the interior of the building and don’t have a window, we were able to put in some solar tunnels or tubes that connect to the ceiling that bring in just astonishing amounts of light in a really pleasing way, not light that’s bright in your eyes and hurts but it’s you know people would try to flip the switch off. So, we were able to get daylighting into some of the interior spaces which is I find to be another nice aspect.

Janet: That’s terrific. I like that idea quite a bit. And for those of you who are listening, we will have all that information and resources again on Inclusive-Designers-dot-com, come visit us. Davis, is there anything else besides the solar tubes that you might think would be important for our listeners to learn about and learn about in this project?

Davis: I will mention one other really important feature that is probably one of the most popular, is the ceramic tiles that we had custom ordered from an artist who, they’re just you know square tiles, and she made these fascinating figures and creatures all different creature on each tile, with these bright colors and she hand stamped them to give it a lot of texture. So, we’ve got a sensory level there that, we have a wall of them as they first walk into the building. So, there’s fishes and dolphins and all sorts of sea creatures, sea turtles and so forth and then scattered throughout the rest of the building… they’re in unique locations you wouldn’t typically think of having tiles like this. So, you know that’s something that visitors are invited and welcome to touch and interact with. They’re stuck on the wall with very strong industrial Velcro so they’re not going anywhere and they’re able to be wiped up and cleaned up but they’re- because of sensory processing integration that a lot of people experience- this is something that has also been really beneficial so far.

Janet: Can you talk a little bit more about that that I find that kind of interesting. I mean, having that kind of texture and being able to have a textile that you can touch is a, I think it’s sort of a universal approach to kind of maybe even being a little bit engaged within the space. and what was the decision behind making those particular tiles and is there research behind it that suggests that there’s positive benefits for something of that kind of nature?

Davis: Well, I’m not sure which member of the team came up with this idea. I think from the beginning though we thought let’s think of a way to make it feel less medicalized and feel less institutionalized. (J: Right.) So, we wanted something on the walls that would be at kid height so they would feel like the space was for them. And at youth height, and the staff could find novelty. So there are, there are studies about novelty and there’s a lot of research about sensory tactile stimulation and the opportunity to reach out and touch it would touch upon the theories of that perception of control. I mean clearly this is the type of setting where if I had if I had the resources, I would love to do some more studies on it and say well what’s what is it like to have this tactile environment.

The artist we worked with had a close affinity and an understanding of our population. So, she was able to transfer our, what we describe to her and how, what we are seeking into something that just came out, came out beautifully. She took great care and like I said hand pressing them all and giving us a you know steep discount because we ordered 200 tiles. So, she packaged them up safely and we were able to figure out how to place them on the walls by doing a printout of all the color versions first. So, we could use you know some painter’s tape. We had just little easy-to-remove print out so we could place them and locate them and move them around and we had a couple of children at our, I won’t say disposal, in our world who are happy to advise on what they thought would look good and be (J: Cool) workable so in that way we were able to have somewhat of a participatory design process. But like you mentioned earlier, HIPA wouldn’t, we couldn’t actually have participatory design with the children and youth that use the center but we had some stand ins, some of the designer and the muralists’ children were able to influence the locations and preferences for how they thought it would go best.

I mean it’s just, it’s goes, I could go on and on, but I think, uh, the response so far, it’s been a month and a half or so, it’s been really positive. People feel excited to return after their first visit because they know that they’re going to a place that can take care of them. It’s a remarkable project and I really do hope that it can serve as an example to people, not just in abuse intervention centers, but in many settings that need trauma informed design, of how with commitment and a team environment that’s beautiful, restorative spaces can be designed that are also highly functional.

Janet: Well this has been terrific. Thank you so much Davis. And again, we’ll have all the information on Inclusive-Designers-dot-com. I want to thank my guest today J Davis Harte, Dr. Harte to all of you. This has been terrific and hopefully I would love for you to come back at some point and give us an update on the ABC House, as well as obviously we’ll be talking to you again about different types of, different types of ,other types of projects that you and I might be doing and maybe some of the work that you’re doing with the juvenile facility.

Davis: Sure, I would love that very much. There’s lots and lots to talk about.

Janet: Terrific. Thank you so much.

Davis: You’re welcome.

(Music- Transition to Outro)

Carolyn: We hope you enjoy our Inclusive Designers Podcast and forum…

Janet: For more information on our guests or on the design and research covered in this episode, please check out our web page at:

Carolyn: If you have any questions on today’s topic, or have suggestions for future topics you’d like us to include, please shoot us an email at:

Janet: Until our next podcast episode… Stay Well and Stay Well Informed.
Thanks again for listening.

Carolyn: Thanks again.


ABC House Materials Board

4 thoughts on “Designing for: Trauma-Informed Design (Season 1, Episode 5)”

  1. Is there a video or slide presentation that was showing during this? Would be super helpful to see visuals while listening.

  2. Hi Amy! If you look on the webpage you will find a bunch of information. I don’t think Dr. Harte had any slides for that particular session. Fortunately, we started video taping our episodes with the latest one (which, you are in luck, also just happens to be on TID) and here is the link. There are sides on that! I am sure I can introduce you to Dr. Harte, she is very open to collaborating with ideas especially around TID, if you would like. Hope this helps! ~ Janet @ Inclusive Designers,

  3. I realized I listened to this on Overcast, and I thought I was listening to this episode, however what I was actually listening to was “BAC Talks: Trauma Informed Design in a Post-Pandemic Environment”. Just found that on here, and it looks like there is a video recording of this with the visuals!

  4. Hi Amy,
    What is Overcast? Yes, the BAC Talks were recorded for our podcast: Inclusive Designers. Did you find everything you were looking for? Thanks for reaching out, ~ Janet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.