There’s no denying the importance for domestic violence shelters; they provide much-needed safety, security, peace, and legal advice to vulnerable members of the community they serve. As one of five centers—each serving one of New York City’s boroughs—the Staten Island Family Justice Center, designed by women-owned and led firm Spacesmith, was created to build a welcoming, comfortable, and safe environment to those seeking help. With a 64-percent increase in the number of domestic violence victims between 2009 and 2014 on Staten Island, the Justice Center addresses an essential need for the community.
While a main tenant of creating a safe domestic-violence shelter is to build a space where inhabitants are protected from the world outside the walls, this can lead to designs that negate the benefits of nature and open spaces. However, Spacesmith’s design concept allows natural light to seep into the deep existing space with windows facing in one direction. Communal rooms and workstations are located against a window wall with open sightlines to enhance daylight penetration.
Additionally, the Staten Island Family Justice Center houses the district attorney’s office, accessible via a separate entrance to allow clients to access services while remaining discrete.
Although working with a limited government budget, Spacesmith wanted to create a space that offers a healthy interior, uplifting character, and provided the agency with improved life-cycle performance through the use of efficient and durable materials.
what you can do
Domestic violence shelters began to appear in the 1970s. These sanctuaries were often converted single-family homes or these sites where, while providing physical safety, did not offer much in the way of providing victims peace of mind during the difficult transition. In the last decade and a half, society has come to realize that there are better ways to address the design of these sites that will better serve the overall health of their users.
Since then, organizations like Building Dignity and Design Resources for Homelessness have conducted studies to show how design can positively impact the lives of domestic violence victims. For Building Dignity, those studies were put into practice when the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV) teamed up with Mahlum, a Northwestern architecture firm specializing in design that promotes healing, wellness, and learning.
Because of the sensitive nature of domestic violence shelters, the best way to help in your community is to get in touch with a local organization—through its office line rather than its hotline in order to keep the phone open for victims seeking help. Due to the sensitive nature of shelters, it is best to directly find out what needs they have.
Additionally, if you think someone around you is in a dangerous situation due to domestic violence, there are resources that can help them, including the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-SAFE, or domesticshelters.org.