I recently had the privilege of serving as a judge for Behavioral Healthcare's 2012 Design for Health and Human Services Showcase (last year's coverage can be found here). This was my first time doing this and it was a very exciting experience.
The projects were very diverse and ranged from an un-built wellness center for recovering patients in a high-rise building in New York City, to large completed hospitals in rural settings. There were short-term crisis centers and facilities for the chronically mentally ill.
Fortunately, we were not asked to compare and rank them against each other, but simply to evaluate each for its own merits with respect to the patient populations they were designed to serve.
Even the very large projects did an excellent job of respecting human scale and the individual patient’s environments are becoming more welcoming and less institutional. Alternatives to inpatient treatment are being explored and the projects demonstrated an effort to develop more humane places to house individuals picked up by the authorities rather to taking them to a jail cell.
Dr. Karl Menninger felt strongly that hope is the most important human emotion. Without it, everything else is lost. This experience gives me hope that at least some facilities and their design teams are being proactive in leading the built environment of treatment centers for the mentally ill in a direction that will help them recover to the fullest extent possible.