• Centre of Learning for family Violence

Insight: Inverting trauma-informed principles to instructive effect

As experts in justice sector design, we understand the potency of calming, trauma-informed architecture. We have designed Children’s Court waiting rooms and cubby spaces that comfort victims and their families. Prison cells with more hopeful outlooks have contributed to lower incidence rates in incarceration, too, assisting rehabilitation goals. But in a recent collaboration with the Victoria Police at the Academy in Glen Waverley, we inverted this thinking to help drive innovative education outcomes for recruits.

The Centre of Learning for Family Violence opened in April 2019, and will feature this evening on Channel 31’s Sacred Spaces. In a first for police educational infrastructure design in Australia, FMSA collaborated with Victoria Police to realise an innovative simulation centre that encourages a deep understanding of the dynamics of family violence, and develops strategies and practical skills for the management of perpetrators and unpredictable scenarios.

According to Kevin Casey, the Assistant Commissioner of People Development Command – which includes the Victoria Police Academy, the police respond to an increasing number of family violence incidents every year. In the past 12 months to June 2020, Victoria Police responded to more than 88,200 family violence incidents, an increase of 6.7 per cent and the highest on record. Consuming between 40 and 60 per cent of policing time, this represents a significant policing challenge that calls for considered research and investment. The Sacred Spaces broadcast offers a crucial insight into the design of this innovative and victim centric training facility.

We know it is the accumulation of design elements that amount to either a positive or negative experience of architecturally designed space. Where trauma-informed design should be soothing, the Centre of Learning for Family Violence attempts to curate the opposite effect. Complex sensory elements are layered within the design in an effort to raise recruits’ anxiety levels, activate opportunities for decision-making, and prepare them to better respond to the incidents they will eventually face on duty.

Details demonstrate a compounding of visual and other sensory cues that might distract recruits and test their training. Beyond the high fence, long pavers draw the visitor to the front door, and wet-look grass offers a further subliminal deterrence from crossing the yard to check blind corners for potential threats first. Educators layer the built environment with “scent theatre” – acrid and overpowering smells that offer further sensory distraction.

Behind the front door, we worked with Victoria Police to detail a realistic home-like canvas that educators can customise to appear as a particular location or demographic. Today, the room might look like a student apartment, tomorrow, an elderly couple’s house in the suburbs. Actors bring the setting to life as victims and perpetrators, role playing various immersive and potentially dangerous simulations in what is a safe and supported learning environment for recruits. Long curtains, ample cupboards and multiple points of entry and exit facilitate changing scenarios and opportunities for risk assessment.

With scenarios streamed to remote learning centres in other parts of the state, and to the classrooms and lecture theatres on site, educators can discuss appropriate responses and anticipate variations unique to locale with a greater number of recruits in real-time. With this built-in technological capability, Victoria Police can train up to 1200 recruits per year. During a global pandemic, this access to current education has proved even more potent than ever.

To offer privacy to the simulations, we reworked the original plan to distance the Simulation Centre from the rest of the facilities. This generated extra room for a driveway outside the simulated home environment and with it, additional opportunities for learning.

A welcoming central atrium for the new Academy headquarters stands in stark contrast with the anonymity of the simulation centre. An extroverted canopy extends respectfully towards the historically significant chapel on site, and the open stairwell encourages interaction between recruits, staff and sworn members. The iconic Sillitoe tartan inspired skylights render this communal space even more welcoming, drawing light down to brighten the double-height void.

The offices, too, are more sociable in their design and early feedback suggests the open plan has been well received. Management reports co-location of other policing units and teams has built positive relationships and led to better collaborations and project outcomes, narrowing the gap between operational and training environments.

The Centre of Learning for Family Violence featured on Sacred Spaces in October on Channel 31 and Foxtel Aurora, and is now available to view on Youtube.

Photography: Blue Tree Studios