(post co-authored with Julia Jovanovic)
Through her research, student Julia Jovanovic discovered that in Canada one in five individuals has, is or will suffer a mental health problem. It equates to 15% of the healthcare burden but has only 6 % of the health care budget. Of particular concern to Julia was the fact that eleven Canadians per day commit suicide and 90% of them have a diagnosable mental health problem.
For her project, Julia chose to work with a small, mental health organization – Mental Health Consumer/Survivors Employment Association of Essex County, also known as Ten Friends Diner. Ten Friends diner describes themselves as: “a not for profi¬t organization working in the Mental Health Sector; helping those who experience Mental Health setbacks. The people who work at Ten Friends Diner are Mental Health Survivors who can cope with their setbacks and gain the ability to work an average job within the community.”
Two years ago Ten Friends Diner moved to a new location in Windsor, Ontario, as per request of their ministry representative. The new diner was larger and was in a more favorable location, however the interior design of the dining space and the significant lack of office and storage space proved difficult. Staff began to feel the effects of the poor interior environment, feeling down, missing days of work and being physically tired on the job. Testimonials from the Consumer Survivors spoke to this point:
“Our old diner was cozy and warm. I was uplifted to come to work in a bright and friendly atmosphere. The current diner lacks the home feeling and casts off the sensation of being in an institution. The colour is dark and has no welcoming feel.”
“Our old location was small but gave off the feel of openness and welcome. The décor was bright and customers would tell us how cozy it was to just sit and chat with other customers and even the staff.”
“My mood in relation to the old diner was more work effective, brought on happier thoughts and a sense of freedom. I really love the added room in the new diner but as for motivation the décor lacks that inspiration.”
In addition there were health and safety issues with the interior space, including peeling sprayed on fire insulation on the open ceiling and high indoor humidity, which affected the air quality in the diner. These concerns were first thought to be landlord’s responsibility and were later resolved to be Ten Friends’ responsibility.
The challenges of the dining space were described and listed in two categories – functional and environmental. The functional challenges included lack of storage, lack of organization, lack of office and work space, disconnection of employee areas, impeded visibility and work flow, and congestion at reception. The environmental challenges included poor air and light quality, dark interior décor, lack of user control over the environment, high indoor humidity, blocked views to exterior, and high contrast to patio, causing blinding feel.
A set of goals were established to resolve the challenges of the space. These goals were separated in two categories, functional goals and environmental goals. The functional goals of the redesign included an increase in storage space, creation of a consolidated work / office space, creation of a display are from product and raffle sale, and enhancement of workflow through organization. The environmental goals of the redesign included spreading mental health awareness, creating an uplifting, friendly, inspiring interior environment, motivating Consumer Survivors to take pride in their environment and enhancing the emotional experience of the space for all occupants. The programmatic components of the interior renovation included the following:
1. Ceiling Upgrade – Sandblasting the fire insulation and painting the open ceiling white
2. Lighting Redesign – Adding pendants for ambient light – utilizing high efficiency light bulbs with an enhanced CRI; Adding sparkle lighting – LED lights on existing track system for emotional effect
3. Accenting furniture with light tones to reflect light around the space – Painting chair frames; Replacing table tops
4. Color Redesign – Repainting wall surfaces with a color palette that promotes well-being and also communicated the mental health nature of the organization.
5. Corner Unit / Consolidated Work Area – Creating free-standing furniture for the corner unit that accommodates seating, storage and work surfaces; Relocating the cash register, relocating the coffee station (minor plumbing adjustment); Several drawers needed for cutlery; Lazy Suzan type arrangement for coffee mugs
6. Marketing Display Area / Office Area / Takeout Waiting Area – Seating needed; Shelving for Display; Shades suspended from above structure; Lighting upgrade; Coat closet or rack
7. Information Station – Glass shelving needed; Lighting upgrade (using existing track lighting to focus on information displayed)
8. Art and Décor – Table centerpiece to accommodate for sugar, cutlery, jam, salt, pepper, napkins; Wall décor (photography piece depicting all the members of Ten Friends that have contributed to its long lasting success); Live (shade tolerant) plants – therapeutic
9. Specials Display Area – Originally blackboard wanted but also considering digital board that would be used for presentations or to rotate information about Ten Friends Diner and other organizations or to even rotate nature imagery which has a therapeutic effect.
In partnership with Julia, Ten Friends secured donations of funds, construction services, and in-kind donations to help with the costs of the interior renovations. Substantial work was completed in time for the Ten Friends Open House in September of 2014, and the Ten Friends staff are excited to come to work in their new, more uplifting space. Julia continues her connection with Ten Friends, and points to the experience as significant in her professional development:
“The activist architecture studio provided me with a unique perspective to design and business. In a highly competitive global market, this studio went beyond the traditionally accepted strategies of attaining work. It gave me a set of skills and a strong entrepreneurial sense that I feel distinguishes me from other young professionals. Its approach detailed a process of seeking out an issue of my interest and discovering a project that has not yet been initiated. I was encouraged to find not only a project but also a client and funding. Proposing a project to a client with already secured funding and a clear action path, became a win-win scenario for both myself and my client. This method demonstrated a proactive approach to business that allowed me to see opportunities where others may see scarcity. This studio encouraged using the same creativity I employ in the design process and apply it to the business aspect of a project. It has and continues to impact my development as a designer and a professional.”
To learn more about the Ten Friends Diner, visit their website: http://tenfriendsdiner.com/ or, better yet, stop in for lunch and support their work.