A pervasive mental and behavioral health crisis is impacting the United States. Findings of the 2023 State of Mental Health in America report underscore a persistent rise in mental health challenges, with an increased prevalence of conditions like anxiety and depression.1 Access to mental health services remains a significant hurdle: 55% of adults with a mental illness receive no treatment, 60% of youth with major depression do not receive any treatment, and 94% of adults with a substance use disorder receive no treatment. Societal stressors, economic pressures, and the stigmatization of mental health issues contribute to the challenges faced by individuals seeking support.

A lack of treatment and support for those experiencing a mental health crisis has a broad impact, affecting not only individuals and families but also straining hospital systems, law enforcement, and communities. According to the American Psychological Association, at least 20% of police calls involve a mental health or substance use crisis, and for many departments that demand is growing.

Building An Ideal Behavioral Health Crisis System

The DuPage County Health Department is taking a bold step toward revolutionizing behavioral health care. A new type of program called the Crisis Recovery Center (CRC) will fulfill the Health Department’s investment in a full continuum of behavioral health care for the community, including “Someone to call, someone to respond, and somewhere to go”. This shift has the potential to change the landscape of mental health services at the community level, destigmatize mental health issues, and create a more appropriate location for those in crisis than the currently available alternatives of hospitals and jails.

DuPage County Health Department’s current operation for behavioral health care includes:

  • A 988 Suicide Crisis Lifeline provides free and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
  • Mobile Crisis Response teams work 24/7, to respond to adults and youth in their location of crisis, to determine the next appropriate level of care.
  • A voluntary 12-bed Crisis Respite unit serves adults who are experiencing increased psychiatric symptoms but do not require inpatient hospitalization.
  • Outpatient support services for Youth, Adult, and Sobering/Withdrawal Management

The breakthrough programmatic element that will help link together all DuPage County behavioral health services is the Crisis Recovery Center (CRC). The center will provide 24/7 crisis intervention, assessment, and evaluation within a noninstitutional, caring, and therapeutic environment. It will serve as a voluntary, single point of access within the community for law enforcement officers, EMS, and family members to drop off individuals needing crisis assistance, rapid evaluation, and treatment that, in less than 24 hours, will connect individuals to resources and community services as needed for ongoing treatment.

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The Architect’s Role

Civic buildings stand as pillars of communities. As architects who design civic buildings and spaces, we know what it takes to support our clients and their communities as they transform innovative ideas into building realities. We are experienced collaborators who can draw input and inspiration from the many stakeholders surrounding public building projects.

As designers, we understand that by crafting places that are not just safe, functional, and durable, but are sustainable, reduce stress, and promote well-being, architects can influence and support healthy communities. These ideals lend themselves to all public buildings and are especially critical to a facility designed to support individuals in crisis.

Somewhere to Go

The CRC's design accommodates Youth, Adult Mental Health, and Adult Sobering/Withdrawal Management units, which connect at ground level through a circulation spine linking to the existing Kurzawa Community Center and the existing Crisis Respite program. On the second floor of the building, staff-only office space accommodates all 24/7 crisis services under one roof including the 988-call center and mobile crisis response teams. The building form is configured in an “H” shape to fit within the site constraints while ensuring all patient rooms have windows that look out onto landscaped garden areas. The second-floor offices are oriented to maximize views of green roof areas. With the building axis located in the east-west direction, expansive views, and access to daylight to the north and south are possible while minimizing glare and solar heat gain from the east and west.

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Leveraging Nature

The building design communicates a noninstitutional quality that is approachable, warm, and inviting. The building's aesthetics and ambiance contribute to destigmatizing mental and behavioral health disorders. Design elements support patient and staff health and wellness through best practices and evidence-based design strategies that improve mood. Biophilia, or the idea that human contact with nature has a positive impact on our well-being, is used throughout the facility to help support mood, reduce stress, and promote mental and physical health. Early in the design process, the architectural team held a Biophilia workshop to review common biophilic elements and the research outlining their impact on building inhabitants. Elements of biophilia have been shown through various studies to reduce blood pressure, reduce heart rate, improve mood, and increase the feeling of safety. The design team selected the following key elements of Biophilia to use throughout the project including:

• Visual connection with nature

• Prospect and refuge

• Dynamic and diffuse light

• Material connection with nature

• Biomorphic forms and patterns

The exterior of the building seamlessly integrates with its surroundings, employing a natural wood open joint rainscreen system at the ground level to match the neighboring Kurzawa Community Center and provide a material connection to nature. Straight, organized lines and repetitive elements impart a sense of structure to the facade. The repetition of modules across the various facade materials provides predictability and harmony. As one approaches the building, organic biomorphic patterns in the form of digitally printed graphics on the glazing offer privacy to those within the building and moments of clarity toward the view outside. A residentially familiar trellis welcomes visitors, casting dappled light reminiscent of sunlight filtering through treetops – a biophilic touch that creates dynamic and diffuse light.

Design for Well-being

On the interior of the building, the design prioritizes the well-being of its occupants. Crafted to infuse natural light into all patient spaces, the architecture creates an uplifting and relaxing environment. Daylight modeling software was leveraged during the design process to achieve the expanse of windows and levels of daylight that reach a goal of 50% Spatial Daylight Autonomy for the building, meaning, 50% of spaces on average do not require artificial light sources for 50% of daytime. Daylight modeling helped the design team balance the need for privacy from the outside and the desire for well-daylit spaces.

The lobby, with its warm, professional ambiance, extends a hospitable welcome to patients. Wood and moss elements within the space establish material connections to nature. Patient units use the biophilic concept of “prospect and refuge” with clear organization – long vistas out of the building and smaller, more private areas of refuge. The adult units feature patio access for a direct connection to nature. This layout enhances well-being by minimizing stress and boredom while fostering a sense of comfort and security. Throughout the interior, calming colors and biophilic forms and textures – found in carpeting, wall coverings, tiles, and accent materials – further amplify the connection with the natural world and create a sense of calm. Additional features that support staff wellness include a quiet room for decompression, a staff terrace off a communal break room, and an open and day-lit communicating stair to promote circulation outside of the elevator. These elements, taken together, promote mental well-being in an atmosphere that destigmatizes individuals with mental health and/or substance use disorders.

The design elements of the CRC will help the project achieve WELL Building certification. The WELL Building Standard is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being.

As more communities answer the call, the compassionate design of Crisis Recovery Centers and other spaces used to treat vulnerable and at-risk patients can truly transform the recovery and healing process.


  1. Reinert, M, Fritze, D. & Nguyen, T. (October 2022). “The State of Mental Health in America 2023.” Mental Health America, Alexandria VA. https://mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america
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