Beyond Building examined how interior design might affect and benefit the physical and emotional wellbeing of young people who have been placed into out-of-home care for any period between two months and six years. Many of these young people have encountered abuse – physical, psychological and sexual – and some also have drug and mental health issues. While the residential care units should be an environment which not only protects these young people but also offer therapeutic support, the functional nature of the design of many of the units undermines the potential of environment in relation to well-being.
Gregory Nicolau, director of the Australian Childhood Trauma Group and a consultant psychologist who works with young people and residential care workers, contacted Suzie Attiwill, then program director, RMIT Interior Design to see if there was any potential in involving interior students in the development of design proposals that could then be implemented by the sector.
Interior design is a practice concerned with the relation between people and their environments in terms of inhabitation – both physically and subjectively. Therefore what could this relationship be in the context of residential care units? How could it develop? Can/how might interior designs transform these environments into spaces that provide a therapeutic environment? What would this involve in terms of interiors?
Beyond Building was an invitation to all involved to consider interior design as a practice not defined by the inside of a building so much as a relational condition – between people, programs, different times of day and night, schedules, colour, light, tactility, psychological and affective qualities of design and interiors. This also shifts design as practice from one concerned with structures and physical form to one that takes into account temporal as well as spatial conditions.
A series of undergraduate design studios have taken place which have produced a range of design scenarios that have been presented to residential care workers, government architects working in the sector and representatives from the Department of Human Services. A publication was also produced: Suzie Attiwill (ed), Beyond Building Melbourne: RMIT Interior Design, 2010 (ISBN 978-0-9808101-0-3)