Lending their time, tools and expertise on a recent Saturday, Philadelphia University architecture students and faculty installed new privacy partitions designed specifically for Women of Change Safe Haven shelter, which serves chronically homeless and mentally ill women in Philadelphia.
With the goal of improving the quality of life for the 25 shelter residents, the PhilaU group rolled up their sleeves Dec. 8 and went to work installing the sleeping booths, designed to provide the women with some privacy and a sense of personal space, including integrated space for storage of clothes and personal items.
Justine Tarrant, a recent architecture graduate who helped design and install the partitions, said, “Before we took on this project, the women had no privacy or sense of personal space. Now each woman will have their own unit where they can feel safe and, most importantly, sheltered.”
The project came out of last spring’s Design X Socio-Political architecture studio class, taught by David Kratzer, associate professor of architecture. Officials at Project H.O.M.E., which runs the shelter, were so impressed by the students’ design that they subsequently funded the manufacture of 25 sleeping units. The project also received a $3,000 Nexus Learning grant from the University, and industry partner DuPont, through C.H. Briggs, agreed to donate headboards made from their Corian® solid-surface material.
Not only do the sleeping partitions provide privacy and storage for the residents, but the materials were carefully chosen to be hygienic and easy to clean, which will help stave off bug infestations, which have been a problem in the past, said Paul Sassani, vice president of property and asset management for Project H.O.M.E.
Kratzer, who worked alongside students to install the partitions at the shelter, said the sleeping partitions will greatly improve the quality of life for the women living at the shelter by providing them with a sense of both privacy and community.
“What’s nice about the design is that when they are standing, the women will be able to see and talk with one another, but when they sit down, they are able to get some privacy,” Kratzer said.
“Providing privacy at the same time as visibility for safety was a tricky design problem,” he said.
During the planning stages, the architecture students collaborated with PhilaU occupational therapy students to get some additional insights into the needs of the residents. Once given the go-ahead by Project H.O.M.E., the partition system was manufactured over the summer by Cavo Design-Build, whose principal Marc Caccavo is a PhilaU alumnus, and the partitions were partially assembled in the Chapel on campus before being transported to the shelter.
In addition to the sleeping partitions, the students designed three benches for the shelter’s community room, which provide seating as well as privacy for several “overflow” beds outside the main sleeping area.
“The beauty of this project is that our team will always have a connection to the shelter and Project H.O.M.E.,” Tarrant said. “We hope to see this project evolve to work in more shelters and impact the lives of more people without homes in Philadelphia. What made this experience so pivotal in our architecture careers is that we have made a difference.”