IU interior design students create plans for new local family shelter facilities

Indiana University's School of Art, Architecture + Design interior design students are used to getting creative when resolving issues in their floor plans and project renderings. Now they're using that same creative problem-solving to help lessen the burden of an issue affecting the Bloomington community: homelessness.

One of lecturer Jeeyea Kim's advanced interior design classes has spent the semester exploring design schemes of a new facility for New Hope for Families, a local nonprofit organization that supports families experiencing homelessness.

Conner Crawford shares designs for New Hope for FamiliesView print quality image
Interior design senior Conner Crawford presents his and his partner's plans for The Nest, New Hope for Families' child care facility, during a mid-project review on March 29.  Photo by James Brosher, IU Communications

New Hope for Families, which leases a collection of houses on West Second Street from IU Health Bloomington Hospital, is unlike other shelters in Bloomington. While many organizations in town offer relief for women and children or for single men, New Hope for Families is the only organization focused on keeping families together. Each family at the shelter occupies a bedroom with a lock for privacy, as opposed to the traditional dormitory style, and shares common spaces like the kitchen, bathroom and laundry room.

The organization uses single-family homes that have been retrofitted for New Hope, meaning some features are less than ideal. But as the hospital moves to its new location on the 45/46 Bypass and the City of Bloomington takes ownership of these houses, the organization will have the opportunity to build a new facility from the ground up.

Kim had been interested in teaching a service-learning course when she learned of the shelter's relocation. She thought that creating designs for the new facility would be the perfect opportunity for students to fulfil requirements set by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation and gain experience working with a specific type of client.

"With the economy dividing like it has been in the United States, the middle class is kind of disappearing," Kim said. "Students' future clientele is divided, too. Some of the projects they will work on will be very high end, and other times they may have to create socioeconomic designs to operate within a small budget. They need to understand how to do both."

Emily PikeView print quality image
Emily Pike, director of New Hope for Families, shares feedback on students' facility designs during a mid-project review on March 29.  Photo by James Brosher, IU Communications

Emily Pike, director of New Hope for Families, was excited to accept Kim's offer and have students propose designs for the new facility.

"Students bring so much passion to their work, especially in a class like this where they are preparing for their future vocation," Pike said. "If we can help students recognize how to share their gifts with lots of people early on, it could dramatically impact their career paths and how they choose to spend their time later in life."

Both Kim and Pike agree that participating in service-learning courses like this can help open doors for students in the future. Beyond letting them hone their craft by practicing skills in a real-world setting, they said it encourages students to have a social conscience.

Senior interior design student Conner Crawford said the project has given him an opportunity to engage with the Bloomington community that he otherwise wouldn't have had. He's accepted a full-time offer with Bailey and Weiler Custom Home Building in Bloomington and plans to continue pro-bono work similar to the class project after graduation. Crawford said the class has also given him the confidence to enter the workforce.

"This class was unique because we are actually working with a client," he said. "I've had classes before where we used real sites and guidelines but weren't receiving feedback from actual clients. In those situations, you still tend to prioritize your creativity over practicality, but for this project we didn't have that option."

To ensure that they would meet the client's needs, the students did a great deal of research for their designs. They received a tour of the current facilities from Pike to hear a wish-list for The Roof, the facility's housing quarters. They visited IU's Campus Children's Center to learn best practices to design The Nest, a child care facility for New Hope for Families' tenants and other low- and middle-income families. They even researched the psychological effects of homelessness and how colors, lighting, greenery and other design factors can alleviate or intensify them.

A model of a buildingView print quality image
Conner Crawford and his partner, Natalie Linton, used the wings of a butterfly as inspiration for their design of New Hope for Families' new facility.  Photo by James Brosher, IU Communications

Pike visited the class for a mid-project review of the students' designs on March 29. Six groups of students shared site designs and floor plans for the two areas of the facility. Inspiration for their designs included a butterfly emerging from a cocoon after metamorphosis, two hands cradling an infant and the shape of the letters in the word "hope." Many designs used natural materials like concrete and wood, while one design planned to build the facility from repurposed shipping cargo containers. All designs paid great attention to details concerning the conditions of homelessness, according to Pike.

"For many of these families, we are meeting them on the worst day of their lives," she said. "Something as small as how much storage we offer families or what color is on the wall can really change what services we offer to families and help them preserve their dignity."

Still, Pike provided feedback and insights to designs as students presented them. She shared concerns about the possibility of public-facing locations of smoking areas increasing stigmas surrounding the homeless. Designs with kitchen seating arrangements accommodating multiple families received praise.

The students will tweak designs according to Pike's feedback and make decisions about lighting design, interior material selection, furniture choice and other details before their final presentation. Pike said she's already excited about the prospects of the students' final products.

"A lot of times when you are creating spaces for low-income or homeless people, the attitude is 'Anything is better than nothing,'" Pike said. "It's so refreshing to see the energy and effort these students have put into their incredible designs."