What words would you use to describe this space in the first photo? Dark? Cold? Confined? Institutional? In contrast, how does the space feel in the following photos? Light? Warm? Comforting? Welcoming?

All of the photos are of the same space—the San Francisco Human Services Agency’s (HSA) offices at 1440 Harrison Street, before and after our tenant improvement project that in a cost-effective manner vastly improved on the human experience the HSA location offers.

As a thought leader in humanizing architecture, WDA has designed spaces for a range of clients interested in creating environments that feel less institutional, and more like home, for their employees and the people they serve. Whether our client is a government agency with a mandate to serve the public, a non-profit with a social justice mission, or a family foundation in need of inviting offices to meet grant applicants and awardees, thoughtful design can create more humane space on a modest budget.

Here are some tips we share with our public service provider clients:

  1. Use Natural Light

Design to take advantage of natural daylight, a cost-free material that can instantly warm and transform an office environment. Daylight exposure triggers the mood-elevating chemical serotonin in our bodies, and according to the International WELL Building Institute, “Proximity to windows, outdoor views and daylight in indoor spaces are some of the most sought-after elements of design.”

  1. Eliminate Barriers

Walls are intrinsically defensive structures that can create barriers to open communication resulting in distrust between service provider and client. In contrast, open spaces, separated where necessary by transparent materials, let in light and support a more welcoming humanized environment.

  1. Improve Flow

Walking into a service agency for the first time can feel overwhelming. Removing the doubt of where to go and making the visitor feel comfortable is key. Drawing on lessons in wayfinding for our retail clients, our designs emphasize visual cues and sight lines that simply direct visitors to service providers, helping them to confidently navigate the space.

  1. Add Visual Interest

Don’t discount the smart use of color coupled with varied finish textures to create welcoming environments for service agencies. These design elements need not be a costly add to the budget. Simple moves of accent paint, stained concrete floors or even the selection of colorful furnishings can easily elevate the mood of the space.

Check out our Hamilton Families, UCLA Family Commons, and 1235 Mission Street for additional humanizing architectural solutions.

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