Course / Past Courses

MFA Interior Design Studio with NYC Dept of Health: New Health Action Centers

Fall 2016

This studio, titled Empowering Healthy Futures is a charge by the City of New York’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and supported by the Healthy Materials Lab at Parsons. The students are developing the design of one of eleven new Neighborhood Health Action Centers across the five boroughs. Our site is located in Brownsville New York which is the seventh poorest district in the city. These centers are part of an initiative by the City of New York to increase health directed, community-based programs in neighborhoods with disproportionate chronic disease and premature death. As stated by Dr. Mary Bassett, Commissioner, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene “Poor health outcomes tend to cluster in places that people of color call home and where many residents live in poverty”. One of the primary health areas of concern in Brownsville is its high rates of infant mortality, ranking fourth in NYC the studio is focusing specifically on the teen mother population.

The students have studied the 2015 Health Report for Brownsville and have visited and analyzed the neighborhood. They have met with a leading ethnographer in race, urban life and poverty and child psychologists and clinicians working with at-risk babies and toddlers, all of this research informing their design explorations.

The students worked individually for the first half of the semester creating eleven prototypes for a Women’s Health Suite, which is one of the core facilities offered by the Neighborhood Health Action Center. These proposals were synthesized into four projects, from which, designs for their vision for the Neighborhood health hub would develop. For the second half of the semester, the students have formed a collective to develop further research and design four unique concepts for the neighborhood of Brownsville and the communities that live there.

Central to their work is the impact of the materials that surround us demonstrating how exposure to toxics directly impacts human health and researching healthier alternatives to the products that are typically specified.

The students come to the studio with a deep-seated belief that design can change lives and are committed to designing with the healthiest materials so that all aspects of design contributes positively to the communities it serves.

Faculty: Catherine Murphy

Co-Faculty: Michael Maggio

Cultivating Wonder

Monica Kumar, Somasree Chandra and William Fryer

As part of the community we exist to heal the invisible wounds of past trauma and reduce the dose of ongoing adversity. We cultivate safe spaces that help us remember, understand, and reconnect. Reconnect to the self as victor, not victim, and reconnect to the resilience of the community at large.

The building in its current condition is a barrier to health care for the residents of Brownsville. It towers over the otherwise residential and park-lined street as a symbol of bureaucracy and power. A patient can’t be treated if she is not willing to walk through the door. The introduction of plant life brings the building into harmony with its environment and offers a place of peace and safety that is always present and always visible to the neighborhood. At night, a warm glow emanates from the canopy, providing much-needed light on a poorly lit street and continuing its role as a beacon of safety.


Samantha Bennett and Melissa McGraw

This project examined the creation of environments for the most vulnerable members of our communities, infants and their teenage mothers. Our intention is seemingly simple, to understand how material choices can contribute to the creation of healthier environments.

Many of the building products commonly used in construction, especially affordably priced construction, contain chemicals that are linked to sickness and disease in humans. Exposure to these products can be through ingestion, inhalation, and absorption through the skin. The goal of this design is to remove the harmful chemicals found within the building and replace them with healthier materials.

By providing access to natural light, introducing texture for visitors to interact with, and including interior details that bring people joy, this environment seeks to provide a happy and uplifting experience. The materials selected in this design are less toxic product alternatives, chosen with the intention of creating a healthier environment for all users of the space.

Wayfinding Wellness

Chengcheng Shi, Fiona Gibson and Giorgia Farabegoli

New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has struggled (by its own admission) to successfully connect with some of the region’s more vulnerable communities. In light of this, how can government agency succeed in supporting those of the greatest need, while being mindful of the fact that such presence is not always trusted?

In order for the DOHMH to find success in their endeavours to mitigate health concerns – particularly with regard to teenage pregnancy and staggering infant mortality rates – the primary objective must be that of re-establishing a dynamic of trust and refuge between city agency and the residents they aim to support.

By creating an environment which all age groups across a neighborhood learn to associate positively with communal support and refuge, the youngest members of Brownsville can grow up knowing their local Health Action Center is a place for guidance and care.

As that child becomes a teenager – and at greater risk of unintentional pregnancy and drug use due to increased stress associated with the emotional turbulence that adolescence brings – the Health Action Center would have become a learned place of refuge in which to seek help, guidance and medical treatment.

Brownsville Health Hub

Sarah Burns, Katrin Renner and Joel Rice

This is a design proposal. It a representation of how a community can take public health concerns into its own hands.

We propose that by giving community service back to the community through a building and through expression, a more balanced healthcare system can evolve.

It would take a much larger document than this to convey the entire scope of the current state of community health and well-being in Brownsville but, with the many voices that have contributed thus far, a design proposition has emerged.

It begins with the family.

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