SCO Family of Services provides children and families throughout New York City and Long Island access to a continuum of care that includes physical and mental health, wellness, education, housing, family youth justice services, and family support.

While the organization operates several locations around Jamaica, Queens, its Genovese Family Life Center serves as the hub of the organization’s programming in the neighborhood.

However, after years in operation, the center was feeling the constraints of its aging building. “It was an old maze of offices and corridors and dead ends,” says Hayden Blades, vice president of facilities and property management for SCO Family of Services. “We wanted to bring a fresh look to the space and make it more efficient.”

Making a renovation plan

The goal was to renovate the existing four-story building, which the organization owned, with modern, flexible client areas and workspaces. SCO Family of Services aimed to consolidate staff working in other leased spaces into the renovated location to improve staff efficiencies as well as reduce real estate costs.

Additionally, the renovation would provide the opportunity to employ design strategies that support its clients, many of whom have gone through traumatic experiences and receive counseling and support services at the center. “We wanted them to have a space where they felt safe and comfortable,” Blades says.

Fresh healthcare facility

Opened in October 2022, the building’s first floor houses most of the public-facing services such as the foster care program’s medical clinic, which includes a waiting area, two exam rooms, clinician offices, and phlebotomy lab.

On the same floor, the foster care family visiting room offers a large, inviting area for birth parents to hold supervised visits with their children.

The upper levels each have public-facing rooms for mental health counseling as well as redesigned staff workspaces. In the latter, enclosed offices were replaced with open-floor layouts and varied settings that support different needs, including shared cubicles arranged along the perimeter to maximize natural light on the floors and conference and counseling rooms housed in the core.

Utilizing trauma-informed design

Working with Spacesmith (New York), the project team utilized principles of trauma-informed design to deliver a setting that promotes healing throughout the building. For example, utilizing studies that show curvilinear forms in interior settings can make people feel more serene than rectilinear shapes, the project team designed all 90-degree corners and corridor soffits in soft curves.

Biophilic elements are also employed throughout, such as nature-themed wallcoverings in the exam rooms and gender-neutral bathrooms and woodgrain doors and carpeting with a stone-like pattern.

“The idea is to get away from an institutional feel to something that’s going to make people feel welcome, relaxed, and calm,” says Ambar Margarida, principal at Spacesmith.

Addressing safety in healthcare environments

In the former environment, the center utilized institutional furnishings that were bolted to the floor to address security needs.

During the renovation, Margarida says the project team focused on addressing safety without impacting the overall aesthetic. For example, in the reception area, hard, plastic chairs were replaced with weighted, high-backed soft furnishings in curvilinear configurations.

Blade says the bright and airy space has been well received by staff and clients. “Everyone who comes in the space is awed by the transformation,” he says.

Anne DiNardo is executive editor of Healthcare Design. She can be reached at