Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts


Interior Design

First Advisor

Roberto Ventura

Second Advisor

Emily Smith

Third Advisor

Sara Reed

Fourth Advisor

Camden Whitehead

Fifth Advisor

Alexis (Lexy) Holcombe



Mental health is a global public health crisis. (Marcus et. al, 2012; WHO, 2020). Although there is a growing acceptance of the complexities surrounding mental illness, care delivery for adolescents with mental health concerns remains highly stigmatized, which contributes to delays in care (Hoisington et. al, 2019; Burns & Birrell, 2014). Half of all mental illnesses can be detected prior to the age of 14 (National Alliance for Mental Health, 2020). While research exploring how the physical health care environment impacts health and well-being for patients has evolved immensely over the past two decades, research on how facility design contributes to healing for adolescents with mental health concerns is lacking. (Hoisington et al, 2019).


Historically, adolescents in need of mental health services were often sent away to a mental health facility that was isolated from the community. The design of these facilities reflected a priority to maximize safety and minimize the risk for self-harm, over the need to provide a human-centered and therapeutic environment that facilitates ongoing healing and readjustment into a daily routine upon discharge (Bil, 2016). Seclusion from the community has contributed to a lack of awareness and stigmatizing attitudes toward peers with mental health concerns, amongst adolescents (Raballo et al., 2017; Shepley, 2016; Bil, 2016). The design of mental health facilities for adolescents has not focused on providing a therapeutic milieu that facilitates information sharing and relationship-building between adolescents with mental health concerns, and the peers they prioritize as their support network (Hoisington et. al, 2019). The design precedents found indicate a focus on design strategies for institutional spaces, such as hospitals and clinics, but few, if any, examples exist to provide guidance to designers looking to make spaces that facilitate community-based integrated care interventions for adolescents with mental health concerns (Hoisington, 2019).

This is problematic because adolescents often prefer to seek help from peers; as such, there is a need for spaces to facilitate consistent peer-to-peer interaction and support. (Yap et. al, 2013; Hart, 2017).


An extensive literature review was conducted to assess the prevalence and efficacy of non-clinical programs taking place within community-integrated spaces, that focus on mental health education for adolescents. Interviews were conducted with an adolescent medicine physician, one licensed clinical social worker, two general pediatricians, and one high school counselor, to better understand the challenges facing adolescents with mental health concerns and the ways in which the built environment can influence healing and recovery during a time of significant biological, social, cognitive developmental changes and transitions. The literature was also reviewed to identify case studies with successful teen-centered interventions that can be replicated to improve awareness and peer-to-peer support. The Whole Building Design Guide for youth centers, and various design guides for designing teen spaces in public libraries were reviewed to better understand adolescents’ perceived needs in the design spaces meant to help them thrive.


Adolescents are a vulnerable population with unique psychosocial needs (Bluth, 2017). There is a need to normalize conversations around mental illness, to reduce stigmatizing attitudes and improve help-seeking behaviors for adolescents with mental health concerns (Hoisington, 2019, Shepley 2016; Clement et. al, 2015). In addition to understanding the health implications of the design of institutionalized health facilities for all of the users, designers must also consider the influence of the design of spaces thoughtfully embedded within communities, that provide mental health services for adolescents. This is an under-explored issue, and evidence-based design strategies can be used to positively impact the design of spaces where these services are offered (Liddicoat et. al, 2020). The research reveals a lack of spaces with programming focused on mental health education for teens and their peers.


For this project, a teen mental wellness and creative arts center was designed for adolescents with mental health concerns and their peers. This supportive resource center also aims to provide educational resources for professionals such as teachers, social workers, counselors, and physicians, as well as family members, and for the surrounding community. This space seeks to normalize conversations around mental health, by providing a safe space where evidence based-training is provided, to help increase awareness and facilitate a strong social support network for adolescents, to help improve their quality of life into adulthood. This space strives to change the narrative of how mental illness is perceived by providing an energizing environment and resources to encourage the development of sustained mental wellness habits for all teens and the community at large, whether or not there has been an official diagnosis of mental illness.


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