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 Phillip Rollfing  

Students design for "Focusing Families"

Architecture students design
Hempstead Women’s Shelter



On Sept. 27, Texas A&M architecture students unveiled their design concepts, programs, drawings and models for a sustainable women’s shelter in Hempstead, Texas.

The class projects, under the direction of George J. Mann, the Ronald L. Skaggs Endowed Professor of Health Facilities Design, and Joseph J. McGraw, professor emeritus, were undertaken at the request of "Focusing Families," a non-profit organization in Hempstead, established to promote the preservation of families and provide education about, prevention for and intervention in domestic violence and other family crisis issues.

The 14 Aggie architectural design students began the project on Sept. 1 at a kick-off presentation in Hempstead led by Heather Stautmeister, executive director of Focusing Families, and her staff.

“We are privileged that Texas A&M University’s College of Architecture has chosen the women’s shelter as one of there fall projects,” Stautmeister said. “The students became emotionally involved and you can see it in their designs. We are very pleased with the talent and ingenuity they utilized in developing their designs and meeting the needs of the victims of abuse.”

Some of Focusing Families clients shared their experiences with the class.

“The students were quite moved by a victim of abuse from Hempstead who described her ordeals and the attitudes of those around her, as she finally had to turn for help to the sensitive staff of the Women's shelter,” said Mann.

Each student developed his or her own interpretation of the organization’s vision. Students researched designs of other women's shelters, visited the proposed shelter site, developed a space program, made a site analysis, developed plans, and built a design model.

“This has been a great opportunity to aid a community on a subject that is serious, but usually kept quiet in society,” said Kristen Buckalew, one of the students working on the project. “It is unfortunate that a place like this is ever needed; however, it is rewarding that through architecture we have the privilege of making a positive impact on the lives of victims in crisis.”

Students were asked to employ a theme of designing for sustainability. This theme included principles of designing for energy conservation, climate realities, site access and orientation, using recycled materials, security and functionality. Several Focusing Families officers and board members and City of Hempstead officials visited the students in the studio several times to critique the projects.

The designs are intended to assist Focusing Families with its purpose of eliminating domestic violence and establishing support for families by providing services to victims, abusers and families. The group helps clients learn new ways to communicate and alternatives to violence, seeking to strengthen the community by strengthening families. Its children’s program was created to educate children and teenagers about healthy relationships, about avoiding unhealthy ones and about positive ways to deal with bullying, harassment and abuse in schools and communities.

"Our health facilities design students, working through and collaborating with the director and staff of Focusing Families, have contributed in considerable measure to the awareness, understanding, and civil discourse of this most important social issue of domestic violence,” McGraw noted. “Their resulting analysis and solutions have in a most positive way made a meaningful contribution toward ending the persistent conspiracy of silence that usually surrounds this global issue.”

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Kristin Buckalew displays her design for the Hempstead women's shelter