Indigenous spaces for restorative justice not only allow for free occupation of the perimeter but can also have profound spiritual and cultural beliefs embedded within the structure of the room. In the villages of the Maori people of New Zealand one would find a single room building called a Wharenui. Used for sleeping and restorative justice proceedings, the building symbolized the body of a woman with her arms stretching down to create the frame, the ribs forming the roof and rafters. The interior represented the womb from which everyone is born, a place of safety and nourishment.
I have been very inspired by this metaphor for restorative space and the circular arrangements in restorative practices. It speaks to the nourishing qualities that these spaces can poses and our psychological associations with formal arrangements and typologies. In addition I have been inspired by restorative justice practitioners who are slowly but successfully embedding these practices into communities with little or no access to spaces that are nourishing in this way. With this understanding I have begun to develop design solutions that address the unique values and needs of restorative justice practices.
An initial idea is for a flexible pre-fabricated curvilinear wall system called the mediation womb that could be erected within a classroom, gymnasium, community hall etc. to create a supportive environment for restorative practices. My goal is to begin development on this prototype for a client in the city of Oakland who needs to create a safe space within a church hall that is often filled with people and events.
Another place we find restorative practices taking over is in our classrooms. Therefore with a grant from the California Endowment I am currently working with a program provider Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth to create a purpose built space for their restorative justice program. The program will address conflict in the East Oakland Castlemont schools using restorative justice principals rather than expulsions and suspensions. With work set to complete this year it will be the first purpose built space for this school and the program. My hope is that lessons learned from this project will help our office to design a purpose built modular room for restorative justice that could be deployed to schools anywhere in the country.
RJOY Peacemaking Room-Rendering
Deanna VanBuren is the principal and founder of FOURM design studio in Oakland California.
Her practice specializes in designing for alternatives to incarceration. She is currently on the national board of Architects Designers Planners for Social Responsibility