San Antonio, Texas
The Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas is a unique organization dedicated to the support of children who have suffered the death of a loved one. From its inception in 1997 the Center has grown to provide support to over 350 children each year. As a result they outgrew the converted three-story home it had called home for many years.
As a nonprofit agency, any new construction would need to limited in scope and cost. In March of 2009 The Children’s Bereavement Center hired Urbanist Design after it had purchased an 8,600 square foot office complex located on Olmos Drive near Olmos Park. Ten months later the CBC began operations in their fully renovated facility. While close in physical size to what they required, the two structures that made up the compound – a thin “bar” building and a thicker, “square” building – also possessed some rather serious deficiencies regarding its structure and envelope. As a result, a significant portion of the budget was required to simply stabilize the existing structures and reconstruct the exterior envelope. This project ultimately represented much more than a few interior alterations and a fresh coat of exterior paint. A genuine transformation occurred where the interiors were gutted and the exterior was almost completely reapplied.
When the CBC was located in a converted home it possessed a residential character that was ultimately deemed therapeutic for the children receiving care. Maintaining a residential character in what would become a much larger facility became a critical goal of the project. In addition to keeping the project at a scale that mimicked that of a home, close attention to the hardware, finishes and windows also ensured that those using the Center would find the environment both familiar and welcoming.
The lower level contains both community and administrative spaces. Offices are arranged around the perimeter of the ‘square’ building with an open common lounge in the middle. The family counseling facilities are located at the second level of the ‘bar’ building. A portion of the exterior alley between the existing buildings was enclosed to create a welcoming spacious entry hall and to make the home like front door visible and readily accessible.
The second floor is focused on the care of the bereaved child with dedicated spaces for play therapy and clinical counseling. Therapy rooms are arrayed in the square building around a central core of bathrooms whereas the counseling rooms occupy the bar building. A thin bridge connects these two zones over the entry.
In addition to renovating the existing buildings, Urbanist Design was also asked to design a new family counseling room that plugged into the lower level of the ‘bar’ building. Conceived of as an inviting living room with a warm fireplace, the design that resulted from this challenge developed into a glass pavilion that was pulled away from the main mass of the building and pushed out into a landscaped garden. A rammed-earth wall and slatted cedar fence enclosed this outdoor garden and created a safe and private environment for those inside. All this helped to create a unique spatial experience whereby the room became less about physical enclosure and more about its connection to nature.
For a child who has suffered the loss of a loved one, no building no matter how well designed will be able to assuage their grief. However, by creating a supportive, safe and nurturing environment, it can bolster and augment that process.
Interiors by Linda Fugit Designs