Interior design is not often a concept associated with the criminal justice system, but a growing number of architects and designers believe it could play a pivotal role in combating mass incarceration and iniquity.
Architecture and real estate companies like Oakland-based Designing Justice + Designing Spaces are working to replace the sterile environment of courtrooms with warmer, more hospitable spaces that can be used to practice ” peacemaking ”and restorative justice.
The non-profit project for public spaces Notes that conflict theorists “define peacemaking as a process of forging a settlement between conflicting parties – either through direct negotiations between the two parties or through a third party mediator who assists to solve process and communication problems ”. This contrasts with a more traditional criminal justice approach to retribution, and companies like Designing Justice believe that physical design can increase the effectiveness of this alternative approach.
Designing Justice has developed prototypes of “Restorative justice centers” who adhere to this thought. “What we have learned is that spaces for peacemaking must be in neutral territory,” Deanna Van Buren, CEO of the company, said at a Fortune sign Tuesday.
“It’s decentralized; it is not the city center. We need to use a biophilic design and integrate the natural world into interior and exterior architectural spaces, ”she said. “So enter through a garden or a yard, incorporating these natural design features into the space.”
Van Buren said that multiple entrances to the facility and “break rooms” can help manage the anxiety of the peacemaking process. “We have to be able to support their fight, flight and freeze responses that we have when we get into a high stress situation,” she explained. “I often do an exercise like: imagine you must have someone who has hurt you deeply. What kind of environment would you need for this? “
Gone are the minimalist and modernist architecture that dominated throughout the mid-20th century. “These don’t support traumatized people. We have to be able to have textures that we can touch, things that we can look at, ”said Van Buren. “We need to be able to feel protected when we’re in this space, so looking at different layers and skins and walls that slide and move to let the light through, but you can’t see through them. Always have a view of nature if possible. “
The company’s design for its restorative justice center even included a kitchen. Breaking bread on negotiations, said Van Buren, is a powerful tool for reducing conflict.
“The justice system that we have reflects a very specific set of values. We think of peacemaking and restorative justice spaces – sometimes they look like your home, ”she added. “Imagine if justice looked like this? Like coming home. “
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