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The partnership between Australian Childhood Trauma Group and RMIT University – Interior Design Program began in 2007 when Gregory Nicolau approached the head of the programs, Associate Professor Suzie Attiwill, to see if it was possible to involve students in re-thinking the interior environment of the residential care units. After discussion and clarification around the differences in approach between interior design and interior decoration, it was decided the best vehicle for addressing these issues would be to offer a 2nd and 3rd year undergraduate interior design studio.

Titled Beyond Building, the studio has been offered in 2008, 2010 and 2011. The brief for the studio challenges students to examine how interior design might affect and benefit the physical and emotional well-being of young people who have been placed into out-of-home care for any period between two months and eight years. Many of these young people have encountered abuse – physical, psychological and sexual – and some also have drug and mental health issues. While the residential care units should be an environment which not only protects these young people but also offers therapeutic support, the functional nature of the design of many of the units undermines the potential of the environment in relation to well-being. Studios are project-based and each studio is dedicated to research through design of a project. Students learn through doing, through the actual process of design, as if working on an actual project. This approach emphasises the value of engaging ideas where design becomes an agent of change. The outcome of each studio is a series of different design projects and proposals.

Australian Childhood Trauma Group and the RMIT Interior Design Program continue to work together to develop research and knowledge around how to best create and implement therapeutic spaces for children and young people in care.

Crossing Thresholds
Crossing Thresholds explores the relationship between the physical act of moving through space and the consequent emotional and psychological affects associated with this action. Project by Narita di Loreto, Beyond Building 2008.

Come into your shell
Come into your shell A physical and emotional protective self-assembled shell which enables young people to change and control the space around them. Project: Alice Kohler, Beyond Building 2008.