The design of institutional environments is something I rarely thought about as an interior design student. That is until we had a lecture on the very topic. During this lecture I learned that the design of these environments is a very important matter. With the proper design we can help enhance the effectiveness of the facility and improve the outcome of the person in the institution. During the lecture I also learned that there are many challenges that face those designing the interiors of institutions. Some of the main challenges involved the elements that evoke human response to those environments.
One thing to remember when designing this type of space is that there are countless factors that dictate the design of them. Perhaps the most important one is that of safety. The design will very greatly depending on the level of security needed for the particular institution. A maximum security facility will have much stricter guidelines on the spatial requirements than a minimum security facility.
One of the things that can be greatly effected is the connection to the outdoors. There have been countless studies that indicated the human response benefit of having a connection to nature. However, the incorporation of this element can be a very large challenge due to security. For example, the windows cannot be large in maximum security facilities. This poses a huge negative factor on the human response of those occupying the space.
Another very important thing to consider when designing institutional environments is the elimination of potential weapons with the interior objects and finishes. This involved the consideration of everything. Think about it-how many things can be used as a weapon or a potential hiding space for escape materials in your interior? Are there frames around a chalk board? Can pieces of these be removed and used as weapons against guards or other inmates? Another very important thing to consider is the elimination of potential hiding places with interior finishes and designs. No drop ceilings should ever be used in the inmate areas because these provide perfect hiding places for accumulated weapons or escape devices. Even items such as carpeting should not be used in these areas because it has the potential to be lifted and the area underneath is a perfect area for hiding various elements.
As well, the layout of the design needs to be clear and direct but have limited access for security reasons. This can make the plan seem very closed off and cause a negative human response to the environment.
In the above image we see an example of a layout of a jail. This has wings that meet in the center observation area. There are security elements throughout the wings as well, but this shows how limited the access is between the spaces. This type of design is imperative for the security reasons of most institutional environments.
Truly, there are many elements that we need to consider when designing institutional environments. We need to design for a positive human response for the occupants of the space. However, we need to base these designs off of strict guidelines centered around security and safety for the guards and the public. These guidelines often pose a conflict ion with designing spaces that evoke positive human responses. However difficult, I feel this is an area that needs much improvement. Maybe with some large advancements with the successful design of institutional environments for human response we can help enhance the conviction of those placed in them. Perhaps these advances will aid in reducing the number of reoccurring occupants from 20% being re-institutionalized six or more times to almost none having to be placed back in the facilities.