Women's Shelter

Site: St. Louis, MO, United States

Status: Schematic Design

Program: Residential

Client: Father Dempsey's Charities

In St. Louis there is a shortage of protective housing designated for homeless women.  This facility, held on the third floor of a men’s homeless shelter, would provide a place for women transitioning to independent living. The east wing of this floor is located in a 1905 historical hospital that relocated to the Washington University Medical School in 1948.  This brick structure then became a hotel for indigent men for Father Dempsey’s Charities. The new women’s shelter proposal would add the presence of women to this establishment, providing them semi-temporary living accommodations as they seek more permanent links within St. Louis.  The residency serves, therefore, as a transition between a transient hotel and a dwelling that becomes a home.  As such, the space needed to express a sense of dignity and provide the room to create supportive relationships with colleagues and visitors.  The third floor east wing includes dwelling units as well as dining, kitchen and a job search area.


2,000 SF Program:


    - seven bedrooms* with one handicap bedroom

      *including bed, desk, storage, shelving, mini-refrigerator

    - one room with four-person emergency lodging

    - new bathroom with existing plumbing lines

    - dining and food preparation area

    - employment research area

    - lockers for additional storage

    - safe floor with access limited to residents


Because of limited space and the desire for natural light in all rooms, the ceiling acts as a light louver; an alternative to the standard reflected ceiling tile.  The rooms are prefabricated with plywood in cost and space-effective components allowing for sleep, study, conversation, and storage.  The white polystyrene ceiling, held in suspended frames, connects into these rooms at a lower ceiling height.  When there is no direct window access and natural light into a space, the light travels into the room from a translucent surface above.  More importantly, the ceiling geometry and louvers carry light into the shared living and development areas.  Each louver strip oscillates according to two sets of factors:  shielding light at bright window locations and introducing light in the darker interior spaces.  Specifically, the strips turn to increase light at prescribed activity centers and thus create sun-spots at places of gathering.


Given the high ceilings and limited room dimensions, the height of each bedroom was scaled down to a height aligned with an existing window mullion; providing a 2/3 proportion for the appropriate dimension of space.  The connection to the window is translucent and allows the light to filter into the room from above in order to expand the sense of space.  This “extra” light also filters through to the interior community spaces.


The ribbon ceiling frame is attached at the threshold of the rooms and dips down at the entry to mark the arrival.  Two doors provide possibilities for both visual access and closed privacy.  In addition, storage and closet units flank this point of entry; equally emphasizing the transition into a place of rest.  At the opposite end of each room, a low writing desk rests along the window. Each unit relies on the adjoining wall as furniture and storage.