NY Times article: ‘Designing for calm’

The NY Times Sunday Review piece from 13 January 2013 entitled ‘Designing for calm’ touches on a number of SRV and PASSING relevant points, and might be seen as a nice counterpoint to an earlier blog post linked to an article entitled ‘Architecture of insanity.’

The writer points out links between the nature of many human service settings and the occurrences of violence in those settings. The writer claims, correctly from my perspective, that architecture and setting can be consciously designed to be calming and thus reduce the prevalence of violence in certain service settings. How? By paying attention to such fairly simple things as: opportunities for privacy, options for private bedrooms and bathrooms, architectural designs that minimize noise and crowding, movable seating, more natural light, and so on. (A non-programmatic point: Even when such features cost more, the writer states that these costs are more than offset by reducing the financial costs associated with violence and aggression in service settings.) Some of the relevant ratings from the PASSING tool (2007) include: R213 physical comfort, R214 challenge and safety features, R215 individualizing features.

The writer does not raise larger questions around what is normative, or in SRV language, the culturally valued analog. This SRV tool is also relevant to discussions of setting and environment. For example, someone’s home, favorite coffee shop, library, public park, art museum, and so on, are more culturally valued and are likely much calmer and calming than many or at least most human service settings, no matter how nice.

In addition, such culturally normative and valued settings would provide many more valued role communicators and options for socially valued roles. Even with nicer architectural features, human service settings often communicate devalued role expectations of, for example, human service client, the menace role, child role, etc.; perhaps through service features and practices such as the language used by staff, program policies, staff-service recipient ratios, segregation and congregation, etc. Some devalued roles are also likely to contribute to increased violence and aggression, not only from service recipients but from staff as well. Nonetheless, the writer’s points about the physical settings of human service programs are quite instructive and consistent with SRV and PASSING.

Marc Tumeinski

Posted on February 11, 2013 at 2:45 pm by MTumeinski · Permalink
In: Uncategorized · Tagged with: , , , , ,

2 Responses

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  1. Written by Thomas Neuville
    on February 12, 2013 at 7:07 am
    Reply · Permalink

    The designing calm model may also be highly applicable to schools and public spaces. In some ways well thought-out and coherent architecture may be an anecdote for the adoration of behaviorism.

  2. Written by Greg Dietz
    on May 6, 2013 at 11:25 am
    Reply · Permalink

    It is pretty sensical to think that various settings can be altered to provide a more comfortable and welcoming living environment. Who wouldn’t want to live in a space that is filled with lots of natural light, updated appliances, nice furniture, and just enough room to remain private when necessary? However, I think that this article touches a lot on the ideas of imagery and how people might perceive those individuals living within different communities or residential settings.

    This is touched on toward the end of the synopsis when it is stated that “human service settings often communicate devalued role expectations of, for example, human service client, the menace role, child role, etc.; perhaps through service features and practices such as the language used by staff, program policies, staff-service recipient ratios, segregation and congregation, etc.”

    I have to think that providing a more “home-like” environment would create a very different dynamic for the people living in these settings and would also have quite an impact on how service workers work with them.

    Take the example set forth by Thomas and Wolfensberger (1982) when they discussed imagery by stating that “Other people will be more likely to identify with a devalued person whom they perceive as ‘well-dressed’ than with one who is clothed in outlandish or outmoded attire” (p. 356). On the same token, other people, including service workers, will likely identify more with a devalued person if their living environment is more “well-dressed” (i.e., modern design, movable furniture, more natural light). One would not walk into a “valued” person’s home for a visit and treat them poorly. Now, compare this to an environment that is simply a building with cinder block walls, full of fluorescent lighting, and essentially, a draining and dreary place to be. The mental imagery itself is enough to convince me that there would be a huge difference in the morale of both service workers and recipients.

    Obviously money plays a role in all of this and we cannot simply go and build endless amounts of mansions filled with modern architecture and amenities. However, I think it would go a very long way to take small steps toward improving current environments and residential settings.

    Thomas, S., & Wolfensberger, W. (1982). The importance of social imagery in interpreting societally devalued people to the public. Rehabilitation Literature, 11, 356-358.

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