Developing a Socially-Sustainable Living Community for Veterans

Design Problem

You have been asked to design a “socially-sustainable” adaptive reuse proposal for a veteran living community. The site is a former brick warehouse in your local community. Central to this project is the question:

“In the midst of the pandemic as well as looking toward the future, how can we design with intention for the greatest possible outcome for life, keeping at the forefront the health, safety, and welfare of all people?”

At the core of the project is the concept of social sustainability. Social Life, a UK-based social enterprise specializing in place-based innovation, defines social sustainability as:

“A process for creating sustainable, successful places that promote wellbeing by understanding what people need from the places they live and work. Social sustainability combines the design of the physical realm with the design of the social world – infrastructure to support social and cultural life, social amenities, systems for citizen engagement and space for people and places to evolve.” – Tim Dixon & Saffron Woodcraft of Social Life

In preparation for design, students should develop an understanding of fundamental human needs, both physiological and emotional (reference Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Requirements for a successful community include:

  • Safety
  • Support for community development or “social infrastructure”
  • Opportunities for residents to get involved
  • Sense of belonging and positive identity from the neighborhood

This competition is designed to be applicable at all levels of design education, both beginning and advanced studios, and has two entry categories: undergraduate and graduate. Projects may be executed by individual students or in teams with a maximum of 4 members per team.

Why Social Sustainability Matters Now

Understanding the social dimensions of communities is critical in order to design for long-term, successful, livable environments (Woodcraft et al., 2012). Anthropologist Saffron Woodcraft believes that following the model of environmental sustainability, standards for social sustainability need to be established to inform and shape the design and construction of new communities (2012). While the concept of social sustainability is often discussed in the context of neighborhoods and cities, interiors should also consider this mindset for the long-term viability of interior spaces and their users.

Prior to the onset of the pandemic, suffering as a result of loneliness prevailed as a common condition across generations threatening the wellbeing of our communities and individuals within those communities. In 2017 the former U.S. Surgeon General cited loneliness and emotional wellbeing as major public health concerns (Washington Post, 2017). A recent Pew study found that 1 in 10 Americans feel lonely or isolated most of the time, naming a lack of connection to the community as a key challenge facing people who feel alone (Bialik, 2018).

Currently, the pandemic brings a surreal quality to our daily existence exacerbating feelings of isolation and loneliness. Imagining alternative ways to connect beyond virtual meetings, we must now plan interior environments that allow for in-person interaction without jeopardizing the health of occupants. For the purposes of this competition, students design an interior environment in order to make in-person socialization possible through “physical distancing,” a more helpful mindset than the term, “social distancing.”

Why Social Sustainability Matters for Veteran Communities

Veteran communities often share both common experiences and challenges resulting from their service. Challenges may include post-traumatic distress syndrome, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, trouble integrating into civilian life, finding employment, and homelessness, to name a few (Kintzle et al, 2015). For veterans, isolation carries a significant burden, particularly for those who experienced trauma during service.

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The Project

For this competition, students propose a new approach for the design of public spaces within a residential living facility for veterans.

Typical Conditions in a Residential Building
Historically, common corridors within residential buildings are characterized by opaque interior partitions separating residential units (private spaces) from the common corridor (public spaces). Entry doors to the individual units are the only punctuations in the opaque partitions, resulting in a sense of anonymity along the common corridor space.

Re-Imagining the Interior
In this project, students are tasked with imagining the design of the interior as an “interior neighborhood.” The common corridors become pedestrian walk-ways with an integrated program to encourage residents to linger and connect. The once-anonymous partition between the corridor and unit is reimagined as an “interior façade” looking onto the pedestrian walk-way. To connect residents with passers-by, students study ideas around transparency and integration of openings, which may take on the form of balconies and/or porches. By taking advantage of the option to incorporate skylights, the pedestrian zone may be flooded with light and offer possibilities for interior landscape.


Using the base plan provided, students determine a site by identifying a location in their city that could benefit from a housing solution for a local veteran community. The building typology for this adaptive reuse project is a single-story, u-shaped “courtyard”-style former 1920s brick warehouse. The main building entry is along the northern façade of the building. Existing exterior walls are brick punctuated by large, steel-framed industrial windows, as seen in the elevation provided. Existing concrete floor to underside of truss measures 20’-4”. The plenum may be exposed or enclosed. Skylights may be integrated in order to bring natural light to the common corridors. A vision for outdoor opportunities within the “courtyard” formed by the u-shape of the building is a requirement for graduate proposals and may be considered, but is not required for undergraduates.

The overall square footage of the floor plate is approximately 20,000 square feet. The “public” support spaces serving the building occupants are the focus of this design competition. The area available for the support spaces and major circulation within the building totals approximately 10,000 square feet. The residential apartment units delineated on the plan occupy approximately 10,000 square feet and are not a part of this design proposal. A faculty member may choose to explore the residential units in their studio as a continuation of this project beyond the competition.

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Project Program

This living community provides apartment living for veterans of all ages who seek support from and a connection with a community. The facility features a Manager of Veteran Support Services who provides programming specific to the residents’ needs including on-site mental health counseling services, relationship counseling, re-integration to civilian life programs, areas within the facility to assist with and/or practice physical rehabilitation, community meals, guest speakers, skills training and seminars, and small group activities.

Community Administrative Support Spaces
Plan for monitored entry/exit at the main entrance to the building. This may take on the form of a traditional door-person or look to new hospitality protocols for hotels that now offer opportunities for zero-contact with check-in. An area for mail and deliveries is required.

Building Administrative Office and Support Center
1 private office (approx. 8’x10’ per office) for each of the following:
– Building Manager
– Manager of Veteran Support Services
– Head of Counseling Services (office is used for 1-on-1 counseling sessions)
– Administrative Assistant who supports both the building management and the counseling services

Copy and Filing Area (approx. 100 SF)

Waiting Area for Counseling (approx. 50 SF)

Flex-Space (approx. 100 SF)
Serves as a group counseling and discussion space for 12-15 people. This space may also serve small group activities like a book club or host a small group guest speaker. This space must have the ability to open up onto the main corridor during times of physical-distancing.

Janitor’s Closet (approx. 80 SF)
For maintenance of the public spaces

Accessible Restrooms for outside visitors
Be sure to provide space for appropriate turn around areas, accessible sinks, grab bars, and door clearances.

Two locations for Gender Neutral Restrooms
Prelocation: 3 water closets, 2 lavatory sinks

One location for a Family Restroom
1 water closet (standard), 1 child water closet, 1 lavatory sink (standard), 1 child sink, 1 changing table

Lactation Room
Chair, side table/surface, and small refrigerator

“Public Space” programmed to encourage interaction amongst and collaboration between the residents. All spaces should encourage physical, mental, and emotional health. For example, the ability to exercise, learn, and find emotional support within the public spaces. Spaces for the following activities must be provided and designed with consideration for current physical-distancing protocols:

Multi-Purpose Space(s)
Multi-purpose spaces throughout the facility must be flexible to reconfigure for medium and large group gatherings such as a musical performance, training or workshop

Common Corridor | Interior Pedestrian Walk-way
Consider incorporating seating for conversation and/or opportunities for exercises along the circulation routes. If skylights are integrated, consider options for interior landscaping.

Primary Circulation Routes (common corridors) may be considered interior pedestrian zones both for transport to and from units as well as cultivated to encourage social interaction. The corridors are wide enough to integrate programmed “public” areas for interaction.

A Community Dining Area
Current: Community members bring their own meals to the space
Post-pandemic: Space for a kitchen where meals could be prepared either by a vendor or by residents

“Façade” Design
Students design a “typical” façade for the corridor-facing residential units. Consider how the design of the interior façade can promote interaction with and form a connection between the resident(s) of the unit and the passers-by within the corridors. Doors into the units are not prescribed on the floorplan – students will determine door location. The residential unit boundary may shift, for example, if the student or team wishes to create a façade with a slight angle, curve, or irregular form other than the straight line shown on the plan.

Name and Branding
Students propose a name and branding for the living community.

Technical Requirements

Projects shall comply with IBC 2018 and the following barrier-free requirements:

  • Circulation shall be barrier-free, with a minimum width of 3‘-8” and provide turnaround clearance for a wheelchair of 5′-0” .
  • A clear space of 2’-0” shall be provided on the latch side of any door.
  • Ramps shall not exceed a rise to run ratio of more than 1/12 and shall have 5’-0” clear landings at any end.
  • All spaces must be universally designed and code compliant to current ADA/Accessibility codes. Design circulation should allow for the passage of those who may be in mobility- aided devices
  • Interior materials selected with health and safety considerations particularly in light of current pandemic.

Plan and Elevations

See the following for more detailed information: Base Plan PDF or DWGInterior Section PDF, and Exterior Elevation PDF.

Research Requirements

Effective research is critical to the success of any design project. Starting with Google searches and continuing on to secondary sources such as texts, case studies, and studies of local and regional public service providers are important, but successful research for this competition should also include primary sources. The following are primary source research areas.

Resources: Social Sustainability
Americans unhappy with family, social, or financial life are more likely to say they feel lonely, Kristen Bialik

Design for Social Sustainability, A Framework for Creating Thriving Communities
Saffron Woodcraft with Nicola Bacon, Lucia Caistor-Arendar & Tricia Hackett


The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
Chapter 1: Friendships

This Former Surgeon General Says There’s a Loneliness Epidemic and Work is Partly to Blame, Jenna McGregor

Social Life

Resources: Veterans
Exploring the Economic & Employment Challenges Facing U.S. Veterans: A qualitative student of Volunteers of America service providers & veteran clients, Sara Kintzle et al

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

Resources: Materials
Healthcare after COVID-19: Smart design solutions for clinical spaces, Yi Belanger for Nelson

Materials and Coating That Reduce Surface Transmission of Bacteria and Viruses, Blaine Brownell

Resources: COVID Adaptation
Architecture Post-COVID-19: The Profession, the Firms, and the Individuals, Christelle Harrouk for Arch Daily

Designing Office Building Lobbies to Respond to the Cornoavirus, J. Kevin Heinly for Gensler

Five Ways that COVID-19 is Changing the Future of Interior Design, Regina Cole for

How Architecture and Interior Design Reduce the Risk fo COVID-19

Resources: Codes
The Codes Guidebook for Interiors, K. Kennon & S. Harmon

NCIDQ Examination Building Code

Research Requirements

Projects will be judged according to having followed the requirements of the program, along with creativity and sensitivity to the population occupying the space.

  • Does the design reflect an understanding of social sustainability through research and application in the design solution?
  • Does the design reflect an understanding of and respond effectively to the needs of the veteran community?
  • Is the design effective in addressing health and safety measures in response to the current pandemic, including the effectiveness of planning, including universal design, as well as the technical qualities of materials selections?
  • Does the design pay attention to ingress and egress sequence, and ease of accessibility and flow throughout the spaces?
  • Does the branding and name for the center utilize the concept and celebrate the space? Is the identity of the space evident through the interior design solution?


This competition is designed to be applicable at all levels of design education, and it is our hope that it will serve as a good educational tool in both beginning and advanced studios. This competition has two entry categories: undergraduate and graduate (in graduate studios). It is encouraged by the committee to consider using a vertical studio approach, where one lower level student works with an upperclassman to create the design solutions. It is appropriate for an institution or instructor to set a program type based on their understanding of their student body and individual contexts.

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(2) 24H x 36W posters (in PDF format) that must include the following schematic design proposal:

  • Name and branding of the Socially Sustainable Living Community for Veterans
  • Designer’s concept statement (100 words or less), describing the “social sustainability” of the design proposal for the veteran community
  • Evidence and analysis of research
  • Location and rationale of site selection within the local community
  • Process work, annotated by the student (photos of models, sketches, etc.)
  • Floor plan
  • Interior elevations and/or sections
  • Rendered perspectives and/or model photographs including articulation of the “façade design” for the residential units along the common corridor
  • A concept for the interior materials selections including a statement of rationale. Technical specifications are not required, however the statement should make clear that the student/team has a rationale for materials selections with respect to health and safety.
  • Text and descriptions as deemed necessary by the designer(s)
  • Graduate submissions must include a design proposal for the exterior courtyard.

For Graduate Level Entries Only
in addition to the base requirements:

  • Design of the outdoor courtyard space is required

Timeline – 2020-2021

  • March 2020: Student competition is announced at the IDEC Annual Conference
  • June 2020: Student competition is published on the IDEC website.
  • June 1 – November 20, 2020: Faculty sponsors may choose any three-week period during this time to facilitate the competition. Normally the first week is scheduled for research and discussion and the next two weeks are designated for designing. After the students complete the competition requirements, faculty sponsors should arrange for an unbiased, local jury to select the top three projects and 1 graduate project.
  • Faculty sponsors MUST determine the three weeks within the semester to execute the project.
  • November 20, 2020: Deadline for each program to submit up to 3 undergraduate projects and 1 graduate project
  • December 2020: Projects are juried at the Regional Level.
  • January 2021: Finalists and their respective faculty are notified. There will be 3 undergraduate awards identified in addition to 1 graduate award from each current region.
  • Finalists are juried at the North American level. Winners and their respective faculty will be notified prior to 2021 IDEC Annual Conference and invited to attend awards ceremony.
  • March 2021: Finalists are displayed at the 2021 IDEC Annual Conference and recognized, along with the respective faculty. Winners are announced at the President’s Banquet.


Undergraduate Studio:
First Place: $750; Second Place: $500; Third Place: $250

Graduate Studio:
First Place: $500

Honorable Mentions are awarded at the discretion of the jurors with no monetary award

  • In the case of a tie or limited entries in any categories, the final jury reserves the right to adjust awards accordingly.
  • Winning entries with more than one person will share equally in the prize money amount.
  • Winners will be displayed at the 2021 IDEC Annual Conference, in Vancouver, Canada and will be recognized at the 2021 President’s Banquet.

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Competition Rules

  • Students may work individually or in a team of no more than four. It is encouraged that students work in a vertical studio; where one lower studio works with a more advanced studio in teams. Undergraduates should not work with graduate students on this project.
  • Students enrolled in undergraduate or graduate interior design programs that have at least one faculty that is a member of IDEC are eligible to enter. It is strongly encouraged that the supervising faculty be a member of IDEC to facilitate access to competition materials and updates via the IDEC website.
  • Projects must be supervised by a faculty member and completed in three consecutive weeks (21 days) including all changes, edits and revisions.
  • Submission of the project indicates the supervising faculty member and the IDEC member of the program comply with the competition rules.
  • Projects must be submitted with no student and/or program identification on the boards and in the required PDF file format.
  • A total up to four projects will be accepted from each program. This may include three projects from undergraduate and one project from a graduate interior design program at each college or university are eligible to be entered for regional jurying. If there is no graduate program, then there may be three undergraduate projects submitted.  The top three undergraduate projects from each region will be selected as finalists and will be juried for the final 2020-2021 Student Design Competition – Interior Design Educators Council North American awards. The top five graduate student entries (one from each region) will be juried for the final North American graduate award.
  • Project information will be available on the IDEC website through November 20, 2020 and can only be accessed by a member of IDEC. A Q & A section will be available online with the competition information and will be updated through November 20, 2020. Please visit the Q & A postings frequently to stay updated on the competition project.
  • The IDEC member faculty sponsor will upload entries to the online submission portal.
  • Entries that show an identification of school or student within the design layout or entries that do not comply with all competition requirements will be disqualified.
  • Faculty should use this design challenge to aid in fulfilling their school’s learning objectives as well as those outlined in this competition.
  • Use the plan that has been provided.

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Questions or inquiries should be directed to Co-Chairs Amy Roehl and Connie Dyar, send mail to: