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    - photo courtesy IKEA US

On May 2, IKEA US unveiled a prototype of a permanent supportive housing unit (Small Home) at IKEA Live Oak. The home was designed by San Antonio-based firm WestEast Design Group’s Social Impact Studio with ARUP, using the principles of trauma-informed design, an empathy-based approach to creating spaces that consider the needs of individuals who have experienced trauma and that that support healing and promote overall well-being. Notably, the Social Impact Studio at WestEast Design is the only studio in the country to be directed by a social worker. 

Following research and a community engagement process that included interviews with people experiencing homelessness, the 480-sf Small Home was conceived to be either built as a modular system or prefabricated. The prototype, sans foundation and roof, was built with a team of six people in just a few hours, with no on-site waste. Sam Eisenman, sustainability business partner at IKEA US, notes: “At IKEA, caring for people and the planet is at the heart of everything we do, and we see an opportunity to build on the work of those who are already leading in trauma-informed design and use the approach to build resilient communities and create supportive spaces for many.” James Andrews, AIA, a design director with WestEast, says: “Affordable housing is a global challenge, and our partnership with IKEA has created a sustainable, trauma-informed home that has the potential to impact thousands of lives.”

The Small House prototype features a porch, a living/dining room, a galley kitchen, a bathroom with ADA-accessible bathtub, a bedroom, and storage in the rear. – photo courtesy IKEA US

This event marked the culmination of the first phase of the project. The team will use the space in IKEA Live Oak to conduct research on trauma-informed design and its impact on the end user before assembling the final version of the home at Towne Twin Village, San Antonio’s first permanent supportive housing community with on-site services. The community is already home to 65 residents who, on average, were unhoused for seven years prior to joining Towne Twin Village. All residents are over age 50 and live with a disability, either physical or mental.

Current residents of Towne Twin Village provided input that informed the protype’s design, and in the process, helped IKEA take its first step toward adopting trauma-informed design principles into ways of working and engaging with communities in the US. IKEA will also provide training to teach staff about the design principles and how to apply them while maintaining a person-centered, empathy-led approach throughout the design process.

“At IKEA Live Oak, we are thrilled to host the first Small Home model to help make an impact on our community, coworkers, and customers by learning about and helping to scale trauma-informed design,” said Keena Garcia, IKEA Live Oak market manager. “There are an estimated 3,155 people experiencing homelessness the San Antonio area, so it’s crucial that we as IKEA do our part to create environments that support healing, reduce the risk of retraumatization, and promote overall well-being for all occupants.”

IKEA will work with WestEast Design Group’s Social Impact Studio to measure outcomes from individual(s) living in the space and gather data which will aid in advocating for a trauma-informed approach to become the industry standard when developing affordable, supportive housing spaces that promote and maintain a path towards healing and stability.  

Anastasia Calhoun, Assoc. AIA, NOMA, is the editor of Texas Architect.


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Pella Corporation and Pella Products of South Texas are honored to provide fenestration assistance for this project.


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