Architecture that Empowers

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Tharp, Melissa
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healthcare architecture
spinal cord injury
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The focus of this thesis is to understand how architecture can address the physical and psychological needs of spinal cord injury patients through design. Healing environments is a popular topic in other areas of healthcare architecture but among spinal cord injury centers it is not being discussed. The unique needs of these patients make it critical that architects contribute to these discussions. We as designers need to consider how to improve healing spaces. Architecture should be responsive; striving to adapt to the needs of patients who have spinal cord injuries (SCI) by empowering, protecting, and healing both psychologically and physically. The mental health of spinal cord injury patients is a prominent discussion in the medical realm, but from what I can see, no one is talking about the psychological impacts that these spaces are having on people. “Suicide was the leading cause of death for persons with complete paraplegia and the second leading cause of death for persons with incomplete paraplegia”. This suggests that spaces need to be designed in a way that helps these people feel connected to society and understand that they belong.
Research shows that 50% of all spinal cord injuries are caused by car accidents and every 60 seconds there is a car accident in the US. Somewhere between 240,000 and 337,000 people in the US have a spinal cord injury and there are only 14 “model centers” in the US according to the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR). International Building Code (IBC) and Facility Guidelines Institute (FGI) have little to nothing to say about spinal cord injury centers, which means that facilities are being built that do not address the specific needs of these individuals and their unique circumstances.