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2000 Incarnation New York City

Located in upper Manhattan, Incarnation is New York’s only pediatric skilled nursing facility for HIV-infected children. Opened in 1988 Incarnation provides foster care for 24 children whose parents or guardians have passed away or are to sick or unable to care for their children.

As stated in their mission statement, ICC strives to “provide a nurturing, home-like setting that provides first-rate care, filled with love and compassion, designed to give each child a longer and better life. To make every effort to improve each child’s health to allow the earliest possible discharge back to a home setting.”

The reality is that many children won’t leave Incarnation and this is very much their home.

This former convent, purchased in the 1980 by Geraldo Rivera and Rossie O’Donnell was given to the Archdiocese of New York who in partnership with Colombia Presbyterian Hospital created ICC. Prior to our involvement a garden had been that unfortunately was all but destroyed during a building renovation thus we were asked to design and build a new garden.

Coinciding with our involvement recent developments in drug therapies has advanced the survivability for children with AIDS and many are living well into their teenage years. Because both the interior and exterior of the facility had been designed for younger children, activities and spaces for the older children were lacking.

Research methods:

Given the timeframe for the project, 5 weeks, and because of the distance 3000 miles, a process similar to that used at Cancer Lifeline was not feasible. With precious little time for design, and because many of the children’s age, cognitive ability (2 were autistic), and physical health it was decided the participatory model would need to be modified.

So that we could have a programmatic direction when we arrived, focus groups were held among the staff and administrators prior to our arrival in which a list of needs, desired activities, types of spaces, profiles of expected users and special needs to be considered was developed.

Upon our arrival a focus group with all staff, students and faculty was convened and the results of their work was presented and discussed. Three alternative designs were created, a design review was conducted, the comments synthesized into a preferred alternative developed and a final design accepted. During the development of the preferred alternative the students also met one on one with several residents soliciting their input, explaining our design and informing redesign where appropriate.