BAC Students Optimize Design of Bay Cove Human Services

Design for Human Health students redesign local group home for aging residents

Resident and staff member at Bay Cove Human Services, Inc.

Resident and staff member at Bay Cove Human Services, Inc.; Photo courtesy of Bay Cove Human Services

Students in the Boston Architectural College (BAC)'s Master of Design Studies in Design for Human Health (DHH) program are working with Bay Cove Human Services, Inc to create a healthy small group home for cognitively challenged older adults who have developed Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Nadia Sophia, Adrienne Jones, and Janet Roche, students in the DHH program, are tackling unique design challenges as they redesign the group home for these aging residents, who are also experiencing high levels of fear and anxiety due to their restricted awareness of the subtle changes that accompany the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

The students, led by Director of Design for Human Health Dak Kopec, have been using first-hand experience and careful consideration to determine the most effective design solutions for the residents. They have personally met with all of the Bay Cove Human Services, Inc. occupants to discuss what they would like to see in their rooms and what design changes would make them happier and more comfortable. For those who were unable to give feedback, the BAC students took cues from the organization of their current room and areas of interest from the residential staff.

"The Boston Architectural College students have been inquisitive, creative, professional, and truly took an interest in the people we are serving. They are thoughtful, yet accessible to staff and the residents," said MaryJo Cooper, vice president of Developmental Disabilities Services at Bay Cove Human Services, Inc. "We believe that in order to serve residents well, their house truly needs to be their home. The BAC team really understands that, and that understanding is one of the reasons that our two systems fit so well together."

The students are also addressing needs that go beyond the residents as they consider how the design improvements could benefit housemates, staff, and neighbors in close proximity to this urban home. While ensuring the patients have a safe and enjoyable home is one of the project's goals, using design to improve the lives of staff and neighbors is also a priority. For example, the DHH students are working to contain sound levels within the house.

"Working, as opposed to just theorizing, on a real project in our first year of the Master of Design Studies in Design for Human Health has been an incredible experience. Communicating and interacting directly with clients in a real-life setting is something I will never forget," said student Janet Roche. "The final designs that we are creating combine the feedback we gathered from the patients with our own design ideas from our observations on-site to ultimately create a healthier environment for everyone, from patients to staff to neighbors."

The design of group homes plays a major role in residents' well-being and overall living experience. The BAC students have examined the biological, psychological, and sociological aspects of this Bay Cove home and will make changes ranging from lighting to colors to acoustics, ultimately providing a psychological sense of comfort.

"One occupant is a Red Sox fan, so our idea is to make customized acoustic panels that resemble the ‘Green Monster' of Fenway Park," Janet explained. "These panels would bring him great joy, thus elevating his overall health, and the fact that they are acoustical panels help limit the noise he can hear from other patients, and they can hear from him. This simple design change would provide all occupants with the right to peacefulness."

The DHH students plan to present their recommendations, suggestions, and "wish list," to the Bay Cove Human Services administration in June. They will also provide new floor plans and schedules and pricing for each recommendation. The students are eager to learn what the facility ultimately decides to use, given their budgetary constraints, and are excited to collaborate with Bay Cove on other projects that are coming down the pipeline.