Architecture - Masters
In this studio we were interested in exploring alternative strategies in addressing homelessness which focus on the needs of specific groups beyond the provision of housing. We were interested in exploring how architectural entities can become a platform for social change and how they can challenge the mainstream perceptions of homelessness in our society. The resulting project, the Net, proposes a new social infrastructure which addresses the distinct needs of older women experiencing first time homelessness in Brisbane, Australia.
The Net is designed with women with ‘conventional’ life histories aged fifty years and older in mind. Research has indicated that the culture of existing homelessness services is not suited to the needs of older homeless women and there are currently no dedicated services for them in Brisbane (Petersen, 2015). There is an emerging need for a dedicated platform and ‘place’ for older homeless women in Brisbane which integrates existing services and provides new ones. The architectural proposal could be described as a village of essential services and rooms for living which come together to create a ‘third place’ for a new collective of the often forgotten and consistently marginalised group. At the Net older women experiencing homelessness can get access to the services they need through individual case management. They can focus on rebuilding identity and community by participating in activities such as working, socialising and volunteering. They can come together to form a new peer group where they can host, share and be celebrated.
The Net’s essential function is to help older homeless women but it also operates as a highly accessible community infrastructure with a range of programs for general public use. By making certain areas of the project available to everyone and not just older homeless women, the new public spaces begin to rebuild community between the ‘housed’ and the ‘homeless.’ Stigma surrounding homelessness issues is mitigated by making a positive visual and functional contribution to the neighbourhood. The preferred financial model would be starting with public funding and then transitioning to an entirely self-funded system based on profits generated from potential income sources such as the farmer’s market and cafe.
Proposed staffing is a mix of permanent full-time staff, previously homeless older women who have been rehabilitated and volunteers or temps which special skills such as hairdressers, visiting doctors and psychologists.
The project aims to address the loss of amenity associated with homelessness, low cost housing and a rapidly densifying urban environment by facilitating a new sharing economy for physical space. It also addresses deficiencies in inappropriate or non-existent domestic spaces. It is common that women experiencing homelessness may retreat from their existing social networks and therefore potential sources of support/help due to tension or feelings of shame or stigma (Sharam, 2008). The project aims to address the spatial aspect of that problem, strengthening social networks and forming new ones based on shared experience.
Outdoor rooms create porosity throughout the project appropriate to Brisbane’s climate and offer unexpected places for leisure and rest. They also offer internal views to other programmed spaces in the project. The supply depot is designed to store goods donated by the general public suitable for the older women. E-waste would be a priority with the depot advertising to receive smart phones, iPads and other unwanted technologies from the general public. The women would receive training on how to use them for accessing existing services or reconnecting with family and friends. The self-care centre creates opportunities for volunteers to offer essential personal grooming services such as haircuts.
The emergency housing portion of the project is designed in response to the clear lack of any demographic specific emergency housing for older women experiencing homelessness in Brisbane. The services portion of the plan houses essential medical and physical health services on level three and supportive services on level four. The supportive services centre is intended to serve a large cross-section of older women who are either experiencing homelessness or at risk. Case managers will work with individuals to provide integrated, holistic individual rehabilitation through services such as housing referrals, legal advice and financial consultations. Services might involve anything from a few appointments to a regular therapy and several weeks of accomodation in the temporary housing portion. The idea is to give women a space where they can address the factors that may have contributed to their homelessness with the support of their case manager and make sense of the existing services which they may be eligible for.
The rooms for living on levels 5 and 6 are some of the most important spaces in the building. They are designed to facilitate social activities between the older women and their families and friends. Different themes of activity are arranged in organised clusters within open space that responds to the overall orthogonal grid which dictates much about the interior of the project. Rooftop terraces offer a complementary planted outdoor space.
0 DAYS: Di is waiting for her friend who has offered to take her to lunch at the community cafe. Her friend works in the neighbourhood and has suspected Di is having a hard time although she hasn’t been open about it with friends. After her friend goes back to work she makes an appointment with a case manager for following week.
7 DAYS: Di meets with her case manager Suzi for the first time. Di has been sleeping in her car the past week. Suzi places her in the temporary emergency housing immediately and they begin to work on her best options moving forward. Over the next three months Di will have appointments with a psychologist, find a job with the help of Suzi and be placed in single-occupancy permanent housing.
2 MONTHS: Di spends every day at the Net while she is staying in the temporary accomodation, getting to know other women who use its program and doing activities, forming community. Her mood and outlook improves. She has an appointment with a visiting doctor, gets a haircut, takes walks around the community garden and reads books in the outdoor theatre.
1 YEAR: At this stage Di is housed but she still comes back to the Net. The spatial limitations of her new apartment make it difficult to invite friends over or do certain social activities at home. She hosts a bi-weekly film club for older women from the Net in the cinema and they have a dinner afterwards. Sometimes she invites friends from outside the Net and is proud to host them at her events.
Petersen, M. (2015). Addressing older women’s homelessness: service and housing models. Australian Journal of Social Issues, 50(4), 419–438. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1839-4655.2015.tb00358.x
Sharam, A. (2008). Going it Alone: Single, Low Needs Women and Hidden Homelessness [PDF]. https://apo.org.au/sites/default/files/resource-files/2008-11/apo-nid41394.pdf
Jenna received a Bachelor of Design (Architectural Studies, First Class Honours) from QUT in 2015 before relocating to Los Angeles to work for an architecture, interior and urban design firm. She returned to Brisbane in 2020 to pursue a Master’s level qualification, selecting this studio to explore an interest in architecture’s power to enact positive social change.