Scene iv: What a Girl Wants


The women of the Safe House are hoping to get some major internal repairs underway. Their concerns revolve around increasing the storage area inside as well as getting a fresh coat of paint on the walls. Meanwhile, the Safe House team is still looking to the yard to make small, quick improvements that would have a strong visual impact on the women and children. The team will wrestle with some tough decision-making and prioritizing tasks to find the best way to accomplish all of their goals in a timely manner that still allows time to include the opinions and reflections of all the Safe House women.

Cast of Characters

WPI Safe House Team

Scott Jiusto & Stephan McCauley: As two advisors for the project, both Professor Jiusto (PhD) and Professor McCauley (PhD) aided in establishing the project, procuring funds, and proving immense project guidance.

Safe House Residents

Mama Pilisani


The process begins on a chilly, windswept afternoon while the Safe House team meets with their advisors, Steve and Scott. In this meeting, we addressed numerous concerns about completing our project in a timely matter, while the advisors side more with planning to assure the women will be included in the entire project. After a lengthy meeting, we decided to go with the advisors advice and, upon arriving at the Safe House the next day, started on plans for the painting. We crowded around the small kitchen table in the Safe House and got to work.


Sitting with the women at the kitchen table was crucial in our project development. As they walked us around their home and noted the problems, the project fell into context of realness. This was not a shelter, but a home. These women were not residents, but a family. They brought the input aspect of our project to life. For quite some time we have talked about gathering input from the women, and in the early stages of this today, their needs were clear.  After about a half hour of them giving input a woman said, “Well now we would like to hear your ideas”. The group was hesitant to answer, looking at one another, and back into her eager eyes that demanded answers. It was almost as if we were described as some amazing engineers who could dream up and implement an amazing yard within a matter of days. The group collectively assured them that they lived there, and their opinion was much more valuable to us.

The following day, when we discussed the ideas for the yard, we silently learned the womens’ needs and desires. They talked in the clicks of Xhosa and carefully moved each piece of the paper model we had made, nodding their heads when they came to a consensus. The connections flourished when we asked why they put each object in its location and shared our ideas as well. To facilitate less vocal members, we walked around the yard and let the model come to life in their imaginations.

The women and the team both shared our ideas and concerns for placement of features and improvement in the yard

The women and the team both shared our ideas and concerns for placement of features and improvement in the yard


As we sat with the women around the table, we were explaining that we wanted to hear some of their ideas for things that could use improvement at the Safe House. At first, they seemed more eager to hear what ideas we had for them, but they were so excited to realize that we were not there just to tell them what needed fixing, but to listen to their observations and ideas. We took a tour of the house with them, even being welcomed into their bedrooms. As we walked, they told us of some of the difficult aspects of sharing a space with so many women. With such limited space, the women are given very few opportunities to be alone, and without any locking cabinets or even bedroom doors, they feel that there is no chance for privacy. The children at the safe house also have no designated space for doing homework or playing, which sometimes causes conflicts. We will take these and other concerns that they expressed into consideration as we formulate design ideas.


Deciding on the yard lay out.

In order to make the women more integrated into the design process for the yard, we created a map of the space with paper cutouts of different aspects such as the playground, garden beds, and the water feature. We set up the shapes in the arrangement of the yard currently, and let the women arrange the layout without any suggestions or ideas from us. After they had come up with a design, we showed them some of our ideas and together created a layout that we thought would work well. We then went outside to walk around, envision the space, and brainstorm any new ideas that we may have. We will base our future work on these designs


The plan for the yard.

Actions and Observations

We enacted our in depth plan of action in order to gain comprehensive input from the Safe House residents. As we walked through the house and yard together, the ideas flowed from the women and we quickly worked to scribble them in our notebooks. The list included indoor desires such as ways to improve privacy and storage and ways to upgrade the over fell and look of the house. Outdoor requests were to provide a more comfortable area by adding shade and upgrading children’s areas such as a crèche and the addition of more swings. The women explained that the yard was their favorite place to be as well as their children’s. It is a place for them to escape the tight quartered bustle of the Safe House and enjoy a calming, peaceful environment. The long list of ideas can be internalized, reflected upon, and utilized in the designed outcomes for the Safe House.

Reflection and Learning

From today’s discussions we learned a great many things. The discussion about the colors of the room revealed the importance of certain colors to enhance the mood of the house. Having a place that looks nice and homey makes the women feel safe and relaxed. They come from broken homes so they need to come to a solid and finished place in order to feel whole themselves. Going from one broken home to another does not help anyone. We did assume that lighter more subtle colors would be good but this may not really be the case. Some of the women seem to be drawn towards the bright colors and more intense hues. However, it may be just the individual’s preference as there were some women who did seem to prefer calmer, more subtle, colors. This dichotomy of tastes did present a concerning theme. One of the women seems to be very outgoing and thus often is the one listened to. She has a tendency to drown out the rest of the women which concerns us as we worry that we are not really getting the women’s opinions but instead hers alone.

We also discussed the aspects of the Safe House which the women enjoyed. For example, we asked where they liked to go to be alone. We found out that outside is generally the best option. They do not feel as if they have any privacy. They expressed this fact again when we went through the Safe House and they told us they would really appreciate some doors on their clothing areas and locking doors for their cabinets. This confirmed our previous opinion that we should create a space outside where the women could go to be alone and have a little peace and quiet from the others.

Notes for Future Scenes

In order to ensure that we are getting everyone’s opinion we think it would be helpful to try and interact with the women on more of a one on one basis. In the future perhaps asking one women to do a project with one of us and another person to do another project with us could be a good way to get to know them better and understand each of their needs and desires.

Scene v >>