When LuAnne Silvia, ASID, got a call from an old college friend asking for help, it was an offer she couldn't refuse.
Silvia's friend and colleague Gina Ciganik-formerly a student with Silvia at the University of Minnesota and currently a senior project director at the Central Community Housing Trust, a nonprofit housing developer in the Twin Cities metro area-needed her help with the design and redevelopment of the five-story St. Barnabas hospital building in downtown Minneapolis. CCHT was converting the space into a 52-unit efficiency-apartment facility for homeless and at-risk youth and low-income working adults, and it needed the touches of a professional design team. Silvia, a designer with Pisa Design Inc. in Minneapolis and a member of the Minnesota chapter of the ASID, instantly was taken with the project.
"These youth are coming to St. Barnabas at a transition point in their lives," Silvia says. "This project really appealed to me because we (the design team) were excited about who was going to be benefiting from it." Silvia, who brought the project to the Minnesota ASID and became service committee co-chair when the chapter selected the redevelopment as its 2004 community service project, says the objective of the design was to create an interior that is both bright and cheery, yet warm at the same time. The goal, she says, is an environment that the residents will be happy to come home to.
CCHT Senior Project Manager Gina Ciganik affirms that ASID's involvement in the St. Barnabas design will give the residents a sense of comfort. "The donation of time, energy, and creative vision by the ASID designers will make St. Barnabas Apartments a special place," Ciganik says.
"Many of the youth who will live here have had no stable experience of home in their lives. They need a place that's safe and nurturing so they can focus on work, education and developing the skills they need to live independently."
Silvia, along with the four other designers that comprise the ASID committee-Holly Seel, co-chair, Mary Dworsky, Gigi Olive and Margaret Thompson-toured other homeless youth facilities in August to get a better grasp on the project that faced them. Armed with ideas of how the spaces they saw could have been improved if there had been design help, as well as their vision of a happy yet cozy building, the team presented their plans to CCHT in December. Silvia says it was a special event. "They were practically moved to tears," she remembers. "It was more than they were expecting."
The design focuses mostly on the first floor of the building, which includes a community room, reception area, kitchen and offices for youth support staff. Silvia and the design team selected the finishes, paint colors, carpeting and lighting for the space, as well as the carpet and paint colors for the upper floors. Silvia says that choosing the color palette was important, as color has a big impact on youth and can "make or break a space." In the end, the designers decided on bright, clear colors—bright red, slate blue, creams and golden tones—that would have a fun, updated feel without being too trendy. Silvia says color was used to create movement upon entering the St. Barnabas building by using a neutral backdrop along with brighter colors to highlight accent walls and entrances. In the upstairs corridors, Silvia continued the use of color as the central element by painting the area around doorways to the apartments red and using a multicolor carpet with a blue background.
One of the most impacting elements in the design is a tile mosaic planned for the back wall that will be visible from the front entryway. The mosaic, which will incorporate the colors in the design and also create movement in an otherwise linear space, will be created by an artist free of charge with donated materials. Silvia says that since the design team was working with a small budget from CCHT, the designers had to rely on donations and deep discounts to make the
project work. Garnering donations was no problem. "We've had an excellent response," she says. "Where we haven't gotten
donations, we've received very deep discounts."
Silvia says that one benefit to working on the St. Barnabas Apartment building—which is scheduled to open in April—was the opportunity to collaborate with her peers, four designers with different backgrounds and areas and degrees of expertise. "It's been fun to have the different feedback, and the chance to brainstorm and see our different working styles come together," she says. "I learned a lot." Of course, the most rewarding part of the project, Silvia says, has been the chance to help make an impact on people who have had a rougher time in life than most.
"Just knowing that we could make their space into a fantastic, special place was great," she says. "Just knowing their backgrounds, it was important that the residents have a space to thrive in. Our environments are very important to us."