Close Menu
  • Covid-19
  • Design a.i.d.

Design A.I.D.: Nationalities Service Center

AID /ād/ (verb) - to help, assist, or support (someone or something) in the achievement of something

In response to the evolving public health crisis, the Community Design Collaborative is leveraging the creativity and problem-solving skills of its volunteers to meet the critical needs of nonprofit organizations that are serving vulnerable populations.

The Collaborative's mission is to ensure that high-quality design is accessible to everyone. To do that, we match nonprofit organizations with volunteer design professionals to provide pro bono preliminary design services. Our community-engaged design process typically takes six months to complete.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, we created the Design Assistance In Demand (A.I.D) program, to tackle the urgent needs of nonprofit organizations that are on the front lines. These Teams are configured to work quickly, with the goal of providing implementable designs in a week's time. 

Nationalities Service Center's office location


The Challenge

Our third Design A.I.D. effort was at the request of Nationalities Service Center (NSC), which provides comprehensive services including legal protections, community integration, access to health and wellness services, and opportunities to achieve English language proficiency to newly arriving refugees, victims of human trafficking and unaccompanied children.  NSC asked for design assistance as they prepare to bring staff, and eventually client families, safely back to their offices.

To ensure everyone’s safety, NSC was looking for help with:

●      Reimagining paths of circulation

●      Uses of specific spaces and ways to social distance within those spaces

●      Recommendations for contact-free fixtures

●      Seating and other furnishings

●      Upgraded HVAC and climate control

●      Ideas for installing visual cues and wayfinding strategies

●      Balancing social distancing/health safety while maintaining a welcoming environment

Based on the concerns that NSC expressed, the Design A.I.D. Team was to develop creative and quickly implementable design solutions that would address areas of NSC’s 4th floor office space as needed, with special attention to shared spaces, such as the lobby/reception area, waiting room, kitchen and restrooms, classrooms and computer lab, and small consult spaces.

The Process

A multi-disciplinary volunteer team of 12 experienced design professionals took on this challenge. During the kickoff meeting, volunteers met virtually with NSC staff for a virtual tour of their offices and to discuss the issues they expect to face as they prepare to bring staff and families back into the space. The team brainstormed individually and then met collectively for a review of ideas which were compiled into an initial presentation.

Collaborative Volunteers + NSC Staff virtual kickoff meeting

The initial presentation was reviewed by the Collaborative’s internal review committee of design professionals and their feedback was incorporated into the team’s final presentation of design/implementation ideas to the NSC staff. The entire process, from kickoff meeting to final presentation took place over 10 days.

The Concepts

The volunteer team assembled their design concepts into distinct areas including the Entry Experience, General Sense of Welcome, Wayfinding and Circulation, Shared Office and Consult Spaces, Classrooms, Communal Areas, Food Pantry and Clothing Closet, Bathroom and HVAC.

Suggested Entry Experience solutions

The Entry Experience solutions addressed NSC’s waiting room and reception desk area, a busy space that often has several families waiting for appointments and completing paperwork.  To address the capacity of the space, the team suggested routing overflow into adjacent rooms allowing for adequate social distancing, as well as replacing the existing communal seating with modular stacking chairs for easy reconfiguration and storage. Additional suggestions were made to replace carpet with linoleum flooring for easier maintenance and cleaning which could also incorporate a visual pattern to reinforce circulation paths.

Hand sanitizers, the installation of a sneeze guard at the front desk, foot pulls on doors and the replacement of punchpads on security doors with a keycard system were presented in an effort to reduce contact with surfaces.

Sense of Welcome recommendations

Establishing a sense of safety and welcome for its clients is crucial to NSC’s service delivery. To maintain that sense of welcome as clients make their way through their appointments, the team presented the idea of a client Welcome Packet including masks, wipes, gloves, a building map and coloring sheets for children that say “Welcome” and could be hung in a mural in one of the spaces. They also suggested adding a big ”Welcome” sign, incorporating multiple languages, at the entry with clear information about procedures and laminated signs on chairs indicating they have been cleaned for use.

Proposed circulation paths for NSC staff & clients

Circulation played a key role in the recommendations. Our team mapped out possible traffic patterns denoting a system of staff-only and public use hallways allowing for 2-way and 1-way traffic marked by decals of foot patterns and ample directional signage. 

< >

The team introduced creative ideas such as origami symbolism, mosaic patterns, brightly colored walls and integrating fun lighting/acoustic elements to create color-coded visual cues for wayfinding.

Recommendations for safe social distancing in shared spaces

The NSC shared office spaces were addressed by the suggestions of staggering office hours, and moving staff to unused public spaces such as classrooms in the short term. In the long term, plans were provided for possibilities of space reorganization to allow for safe distancing.

Classroom recommendations were made by calculating room capacity pre-and post- COVID-19. The suggestion was made to stagger the class schedule and expand the hours of classes into the evening in order to reduce the number of people in the space at a given time.

Proposed solution for cafe and kitchen spaces

NSC’s Communal Spaces accounts for a kitchen, cafe, computer lab and copy area.   These areas were treated with strategies calling for a reduction of people in each space, hand sanitizer placed at entries, frequent cleaning between uses and the utilization of no-contact trash/recycle bins.

Open Marketplace floor plan

In offering food and clothing to clients in need, the team came up with the concept of a public marketplace. Clients would be able access products from an enlarged hallway in lieu of existing enclosed spaces. They could “shop” at a distance, assisted by staff. Built-in shelving and sliding doors to open the space up, along with directional signage on the floor to manage traffic patterns were suggested.

Proposed solutions for restrooms

The restrooms at NSC combine mixed-use and single-sex facilities. The Team recommended providing signage indicating social distancing measures, floor decals for people to help keep their distance while waiting, as well as processes to clean bathrooms frequently, and provide wipes for cleaning changing stations. To reduce surface contact, the installation of automatic fixtures and contactless waste receptacles was made.  The team also recommended the accommodation of a mop sink that could serve as a foot-washing station for Muslim clients to use before praying.


The Collaborative also brought in an MEP engineer to make recommendations for much-needed new HVAC systems for the office. Two options were provided, both of which included components that addressed ways to combat the spread of COVID.


With the design concepts produced by this Design A.I.D. Team, NSC now has multiple options to consider for both short and long term renovations.

NSC is also a grantee in our 2nd round of design grants for 2020. In that longer, 6-month design process, our volunteer team will provide conceptual design for the renovation of their space to incorporate playful learning, safety and security, trauma-informed design, and increased privacy, accessibility, and inclusiveness. The longer term recommendations will be considered for this larger comprehensive renovation.

The Team
This Design A.I.D. Team comprised 12 experienced design professionals across multiple disciplines including architects, and interior designers.  Included on the team was an architect who originally worked with NSC to design its office space when they moved in many years ago.

EwingCole – Firm Volunteer

     Katrina Healy – Architectural Designer

     Graham Nelson - Architectural Designer

     Adrianna Rivera – Architectural Designer

HOK – Firm Volunteer

    Katherine Antarikso - Registered Architect

JacobsWyper Architects – Firm Volunteer

   Danielle Dong – Architectural Designer

McGillin Architecture Inc. – Firm Volunteer

    Howard Lebold – Registered Architect

OZ Collaborative – Firm Volunteer

   Richard Winston – Registered Architect

Union Studio Architecture & Community Design – Firm Volunteer

   Ben Willis – Registered Architect

Urban Technology, Inc.– Firm Volunteer

   Aaron Jia – Mechanical Engineer

USA Architects Planners + Interior Designers – Firm Volunteer

   Colleen Hamilton – Interior Designer

   Jim McAuliffe - Registered Architect

   Roshni Krishnan – Architectural Designer

Next Steps

The Collaborative continues to use the Design A.I.D. model to provide quick-response services to other nonprofit organizations during this unprecedented time. If you know of an organization in need, or if you would like to volunteer to be part of a Design A.I.D. Team, please contact the Collaborative’s Director of Design Services, Heidi Segall Levy.



More Info