Sanderson Apartments is one of nation’s first buildings designed under principles of trauma-informed care

Architectural and design features help minimize effects of trauma through healing, nurturing spaces designed to elevate lives

DENVER – Aug. 28, 2017 – When Sanderson Apartments opens its doors this week, it will become one of the first buildings in the nation designed under the principles of trauma-informed care. Trauma-informed care is an organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma. And while the practice is widespread amongst treating clients and survivors, it’s only now being put into building and design practice.

Part of Denver’s Social Impact Bond program, Sanderson Apartments will provide safe and affordable homes to 60 individuals who experienced homelessness. The three-story, 50,000-square-foot building features 60 one-bedroom, furnished apartments with on-site staff and amenities.

“We were eager to take our trauma-informed care model and apply it thoughtfully to how Sanderson Apartments was built,” said Oriana Sanchez, director of real estate and facilities for the Mental Health Center of Denver. “Research shows that buildings play significant roles in people’s health and well-being, both positive and negative. We wanted to ensure we gave our new residents every advantage as they work to improve their lives.”

Sanderson Apartments were designed to provide a safe, open and inviting environment that minimizes the effects of trauma, avoids any sense of confinement and ensures that residents feel safe. The space is open and airy with as few walls as possible and clear sight lines throughout, making residents feel secure and safe while appearing ‘barrier-free.’ The apartments’ many windows provide abundant light and a feeling of connection with the outdoors.

“We know the people who will be living in this building have experienced traumatic events in their life which have shaped the way they react to certain situations,” said JoAnn Toney, director of residential services for the Mental Health Center of Denver. “We wanted to give residents as many and varied opportunities to engage so they could find the space that they feel most comfortable in. It’s about creating a safe, trusting and healing environment where residents feel confidant to socialize and create a sense of community.”

Other trauma-informed care design elements include:

  • Equal portions of engagement space and living space
  • Wide hallways with views to the exterior landscape
  • Natural light
  • Multiple and varied sightlines
  • Spaces to meet, talk, retreat, contemplate, interact, and commune
  • Smaller, more “cozy” individual dwelling units
  • Wide hallways and numerous common spaces to encourage group spaces, porches and other community activities.
  • Hallways are viewed as “streets” and offer a place of gathering, communication, counseling and meeting other people

Additionally, Sanderson Apartments features a community room, wellness center, library and art room designed to complement the indoor spaces, while the large west exterior courtyard provides gardens, basketball court and is the residents’ backyard. A safe courtyard open to the sky, and enveloped by the building provides outdoor respite year round.

The building was funded through Low Income Housing Tax Credits through Colorado Housing and Finance Authority as well as financing from the Denver Office of Economic Development, Colorado Division of Housing, UMB Bank and Enterprise Community Investment with partner-investor American Express. Sanderson Apartments were designed by Davis Partnership Architects and constructed by Deneuve Construction Services.

For more information, visit https://mhcd.org/sanderson-apartments/