March 10, 2021

Winter NOMA Fellow Gabby Fakeye Presents on How Biophilia Can Enhance Correctional Facilities

Over the past several weeks, we have been lucky enough to have Gabrielle Fakeye from Florida A&M University as our Winter 2021 NOMA Fellow for our St. Louis office.

She has been talking to CannonDesigners across the firm for the past two months as part of her research fellowship. Her research question: How can biophilia design enhance staff/patient experience in correctional facilities to improve mental health?

In a culture where there is a morbid fascination with true crime and public breakdowns, our National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) Foundation Fellow Gabby saw an opportunity to empathize with those who are incarcerated or within the criminal justice system.

Gabby’s research project while at CannonDesign zeroed in on mental health within the justice system, and how little attention is paid to inmates and the design of these facilities.

“I really wanted to redesign around the idea of isolation,” said Gabby. “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve all been isolated in some way, but those in our prisons and jails are in constant isolation with very little options in change of environment.”

Through conversations with many throughout the firm, from our mental and behavioral health practice to lighting design to sustainability, Gabby’s research project explored adding more biophilic design elements to these spaces, rehabilitation and catering more to mental health disorders of inmates.

An architecture graduate of Florida A&M University who is pursuing her Master of Architecture at University of Florida this year, this research has shifted Gabby’s career interests more towards improving healthcare design.

“The conversations I had across the firm made me think about design aspects I’d never considered before, particularly when it comes to light and sound,” Gabby said. “It seems like these things aren’t taken into account much in design for correctional facilities, when they could have a big impact on mental health.”

She compared American facilities that have a high focus on security to some in Europe, where a town-like design and access to natural light and the outdoors improve the environment for both inmates and employees. Constant proximity to nature improves both mental and physical health and is something inmates are deprived of in American facilities.

Gabby proposed adding healing gardens to prison facilities, and more rooms with large windows, as well as access to terraces and gardens for staff and prisoners. She presented her work at the end of her fellowship in March and looks to bring this knowledge going forward into graduate school and her architecture career.

“In the future, if we add more biophilic elements to our designs in any industry, we can improve mental health,” said Gabby.