Imagining a better space for people with Down syndrome in St. Louis

07 Program Space 2

Hillary Simon

November 1, 2022

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In April 2021, the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis (DSAGSL) took an exciting step and moved into a new office space in the city’s suburbs. 

It was a wonderful moment for the organization that works tirelessly to serve, support and celebrate the lives of more than 2,000 individuals in the St. Louis region with Down syndrome and their families through every stage of life. 

The new space amplified what the DSAGSL could achieve, however, they quickly realized the space could be redesigned for an even greater impact. At this realization, DSAGSL Executive Director, Erin Suelmann, connected with CannnonDesign's Arjun Bhat—the two are long-time friends since back in high school—to talk about possibilities.

Arjun and a team from our St. Louis office, including Rita Radley, Amy Phillips and Fazhe Ren, quickly offered to help the DSAGSL through Open Hand Studio, our firm’s pro bono design platform. The team felt confident it could collaborate with DSAGSL to develop ideas that would ultimately revitalize the space to be more welcoming, warm, playful, accommodating and inspiring.

01 Family Room 1


  • Erin and her team do extremely important work in the Greater St Louis area. Unfortunately, they are hitting a limit on the number of families they can help due to the fact they have already outgrown their new space. So, it’s clear the need is there. Our dream, together, is to remodel their new space so they can welcome more participants to programs, and continue to change lives.

    Arjun Bhat Design Leader

After touring the space, our group brainstormed how they could revitalize it to better empower people. Quickly, the team had ideas to infuse more natural light, optimism, energy and possibility into the space.

Erin added that, “People with Down syndrome benefit greatly from interactive, hands-on and visual teaching tools. The redesign the DSAGSL is hoping for will incorporate many various learning spaces complete with games, iPads, educational tools and video conferencing capability. If we are able to implement these spaces one day, it will allow us to create a better environment to suit our visual and tactile learners.”


  • We immediately knew this space could be so much more welcoming. It can be optimized to empower people of all ages—not just children. The details we have in mind fit more in line with a residential flow—comfortable, warm and homey—somewhere everyone feels welcome and valued.

    Rita Radley Design Leader

The vision for the DSAGSL’s redesigned space is to provide a home-away-from-home for children and adults with Down syndrome. 

“We're often the first touchpoint for new families who have a child with Down syndrome outside of the hospital," adds Erin. "We offer support and a lifetime of services and we want our community to feel like they are home when they visit us."

In addition to serving more people, the DSAGSL has plans to expand programming to reach more people. The organization is focused on outreach efforts to typically unserved or underserved populations to ensure all people with Down syndrome can reach their full potential and all families can feel connected.

“As a nonprofit, our funds are very limited and we don’t have the luxury of utilizing amazing, talented individuals such as those at CannonDesign,” said Erin. “The architects and designers at CannonDesign treated us just as if we were a large client—with respect and dedication. They listened to our story, our needs and our feedback to create an absolutely beautiful design. To imagine that we can have such a gorgeous, inspiring, innovative space designed by some of the best in the design industry is such a gift!”

Here's a deeper look at some of the specific spaces the new design will create in the DSAGSL offices over a number of phases.

Main program space

Extensive use of glass establishes a highly visible program space with extensive daylighting. The north wall will have writable surfaces for education and presentation. The east wall features built-in storage and an area for a TV display. Elsewhere, walls feature graphic patterns inspired by filtered light.

06 Program Space 1


The cafe will be a dynamic space with abundant daylight that establishes visual connections to the main program space. Here too, residential design features make the space feel warm and welcoming.

05 Open Work Cafe 2

Corridor lounge

The lounge acts as a multi-user area that can host hospitality, catering, pre-function for program space or serve as an extension of the cafe. It will be a place to work, display and engage.

03 Corridor Lounge

Family room and entry

This will be a comfortable space with residential details that feature a mural design behind a large sofa. A corridor outside the room will include framed photography and brand assets akin to a family photo wall.

02 Family Room 2