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A Tokyo Counseling Center, to Face Mental Illness Fearlessly



Image result for mental illness

Mental illness is not fun. But it exists. Sometimes it feels like it’s wrong or shameful. But it’s not. This counseling center was designed in pursuit to support people with mental illness, and to make things feel more okay for those afflicted.

An introductory video to my project.

Japan, where I live, is a place in which mental illness is a secretive, almost shameful topic. Much of my counseling center’s design was built on these perceptions of Tokyo. This LINK tells more about the state of mental illness in Japan.

Share with me and see what others think about mental health using this poll link!

My project statement

Giving opportunities for help to people with mental illness is the main focus of this project. The intention is to create a space for people who are afflicted with mental illness to get counseling and therapy in Japan. Mental illness in Japan is still a very secretive, almost taboo topic. People searching for help and counseling in Japan have a hard time finding it. So, a counseling center is a direct solution to this problem. The counseling center should be affordable, conveniently located, and most of all welcoming, since admitting you have a mental illness is hard enough, but going to get help is even harder. Also, the center should be multilingual so language is not a barrier in receiving treatment. This center should be a place for children, teenagers and adults and the elderly to get help. Other users include psychiatrists, counselors and therapists. The counseling center should be built to be big enough to contain several therapy rooms, as well as a comfortable lobby and bathrooms. People should feel like they can breathe when they come into the building, but also feel a comforting, cozy feeling. Architecturally speaking, this might mean the use of high ceilings, windows, but enough walls to give privacy. Light generally makes people happier, so a good amount of windows should be included, although they should be translucent, so people outside of the center can’t look in and see who is there. Regarding the location of the center, it will be located in Hiroo, a central, but quiet area of Tokyo.

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USERS: adults, teenagers, children and elderly who are afflicted with mental illness, as well as therapists, psychiatrists and counselors working in Tokyo

NEEDS: affordable, conveniently located but in a quiet location, welcoming atmosphere, multilingual staff, enough rooms to conduct multiple counseling sessions at once, bathrooms

INSIGHTS: the center should not be so big that clients lose the intimate and dedicated feel they should be getting when they come, “breathable” architectural design (maybe high ceilings, windows), but still a comforting, cozy feel (enough walls and divisions for privacy), lots of windows to brighten the space since light generally makes people happier (tinted or translucent windows for privacy from the outside)

I started out imagining a counseling center in a “perfect world.” I thought about what kind of counseling place I would love to go to, but more importantly interviewed another potential client as well as a counselor at my school to see what their ideal counseling centers would be like.

Patterns/things they seemed to emphasize:

  • bright
  • open concept, airy
  • common rooms
  • windows!
  • private

Then, I found a good site in a location I saw best fit. This site is located in Hiroo, a place in Tokyo that is both central (easy to commute to) and quiet (for a calming, therapeutic vibe). Images of this site are below.

Finally, the fun part. Designing the center. Things I kept in mind when designing:

  • maintain an airy, breathable floor plan BUT keep privacy in mind
  • balance of private and public areas
  • comfortable
  • light! (but keep privacy!)

I went through several stages of designing. First, very rough, conceptual sketches. Then, more detailed, set, measured sketches. The rough sketches were really useful to me, as I got to play around with different ideas.

Super rough sketches.

Initial floor plans, getting the sense of space and size.

More conceptual drawings.

The final SketchUp rendering.

Creating this counseling center was quite fun. Making something that is so relevant to my life, and also needed in my community was very fulfilling. Making this counseling center let me live in a fantasy world for a little bit – one in which people in Tokyo can get counseling in a nice, clean, aesthetically pleasant place. This project made me just a bit, but still closer, to that dream.

Thanks for checking out my project. Here’s a link to a survey you can fill out to give me feedback, or share stories. LINK

Photo citation: Garg, Parie, and Sam Glick. “AI’s Potential to Diagnose and Treat Mental Illness.” Harvard Business Review, Oct. 2018, https://hbr.org/2018/10/ais-potential-to-diagnose-and-treat-mental-illness.

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COMMENTS: 2
  1. April 29, 2019 by 20LaurenB Reply

    Hi Ina! First of all, congratulations on the GOA citation because you definitely deserved it. I’ve always been really interested in Japanese culture and mental illness, so this was a fantastic read for me! Do you think more counseling centers similar to yours could be put around Japan? Specifically near the Aokigahara forest, one of the most popular suicide spots in Japan? I really loved the depth you went into for this presentation and the result is beautiful:)

  2. April 29, 2019 by Katherine Olivia Holder Reply

    The time and effort you put into this project really shows, and it is easy to tell the topic is very personal to you. It is so interesting to dive into a project like this because you can learn so much! One thing I would consider would be creating a sense of ownership in the space. It is much easier for people to open up and receive help in a place that they feel comfortable, a place where they belong. Especially with such a secretive culture around mental illness, what ways could your design connect with the client? Even little things, like having them put their favorite quotes on the wall, can make a huge difference.

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