UMN architecture students hope to redesign local juvenile rehab facilities

At the end of the semester, students in an architecture class at the University of Minnesota hope to send a report to Hennepin County.

Architecture senior Belinda Xiong creates a cardboard model to represent a juvenile corrections facility at Rapson Hall on Monday, Sept. 24 on East Bank campus. Xiong and her class visited an adult correctional facility and a rehabilitation facility to learn firsthand how the spaces work.

Ellen Schmidt

Architecture senior Belinda Xiong creates a cardboard model to represent a juvenile corrections facility at Rapson Hall on Monday, Sept. 24 on East Bank campus. Xiong and her class visited an adult correctional facility and a rehabilitation facility to learn firsthand how the spaces work.

Jordan Willauer

Students in a University of Minnesota architecture class are researching juvenile rehabilitation centers — with the ultimate goal of improving a local center through suggestions.

The semester-long class, taught by University professor Julia Robinson, will analyze how juvenile rehabilitation centers are run. Eventually, Robinson hopes to turn their research into a report and present it to Hennepin County to inform them on designing better and more accommodating facilities.

Robinson said she hopes their findings inform alternative designs for traditional juvenile rehabilitation centers that are better for the youth and the staff working there.

Joshua Meiners, a senior studying architecture, said the class is different than past architecture classes he has taken. 

“[Other courses] have been kind of an analytical view,” Meiners said. “This class is more hands-on. We’re actually going to the sites to inform us as to what is working and what isn’t.”

The class recently visited Hennepin County Home School, an adult correctional facility, and the Hazelden Betty Ford foundation, a rehabilitation facility, to analyze success and failures in the care facilities.  

“The acoustics, lights and materials are something that we paid attention to,” said Meiners after a visit to a facility.

The visits, along with the students’ own research, are informing their decisions on the project. 

Meiners said he put himself in another person’s shoes during the site visits — encouraging him to think about how he can use his outside experiences in architecture to help others.

During their architecture class on Wednesday, students discussed various attitudes of dining rooms. They then designed a model of their own ideas of a comfortable dining space.

“It helps identify your preconceptions,” said senior Tyler Gaeth, as he glued the walls of a model dining room together.

Gaeth said everyone has an idea of what is comfortable, but building and seeing comfortability helps understand it better.

“We stand to learn from professional architects and staff of the facilities, but we approach it from a fresh perspective,” Gaeth said. “Going to each of these facilities puts a real world understanding to our preconceptions. … It’s much easier to do when you see the facility and talk to the directors.”

Currently, Robinson said she is applying for a grant so the class could have an official partnership with Hennepin County.  Robinson applied earlier this year for a Hennepin-University Partnership grant, but did not receive it.