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Joanna Bokuniewicz - "Architecture in the face of social problems. Shelter for women affected by domestic violence".

13 of October '22
Technical data
Type: master's thesis
Year of defense: 2022
Author: Joanna Bokuniewicz
Wydział Architektury Politechniki Gdańskiej

Dr. Justyna Borucka

Work submitted for the competition
"Best Diploma Architecture".

According to official police statistics, every year in Poland 90,000 people become victims of domestic violence. More than 70 percent are women. The actual scale of this violence is much greater, it is estimated that only one woman in seven reports to the relevant authorities.

There are thirty-five shelters for victims of domestic violence in Poland, these are Specialized Support Centers for Victims of Family Violence. The centers are open 24 hours a day, all year round, and accept people regardless of economic situation. The average length of stay at the center is up to three months, but can be extended in exceptional situations. In addition to shelter, the centers offer psychological, legal, social assistance, and help in finding housing and jobs. According to the standard of the Istanbul Convention, there should be one bed in a shelter per 10,000 inhabitants - Poland lacks 99 percent of beds for women affected by domestic violence (WAVE Network, 2018), which shows the dramatic situation of women in the country.

współczynnik łózek na województwo

Bed ratio per province

© Joanna Bokuniewicz

Another important aspect is the lack of adaptation of existing centers to accommodate people with disabilities and the elderly. According to 2019 data, 5 percent of those seeking shelter in centers are people with disabilities, and 8 percent are elderly. Unfortunately, these groups of people are statistically several times more likely to be victims of domestic violence. According to an analysis by GREVIO, an expert group that assesses countries' progress in implementing the Istanbul Convention, most centers are not accessible to the elderly or people with disabilities, so they may be discouraged from seeking appropriate help.



© Joanna Bokuniewicz


The project proposed a network of new locations. The next step was to create a list of requirements and conditions for the new centers regarding location, program, accessibility, character, safety and materials. Gdynia was selected for further architectural development as one of the proposed new locations.

The main design consideration was the adaptability of the building to multiple locations. The building consists of modules measuring 3.5 meters by 3.5 meters, from which all functions are built freely arranged according to the needs and field situation. The main idea was to create an architecture that will not impose itself with its form, color and material, will not be a height or volume dominant.

first floor plan facade

first floor plan and elevation

© Joanna Bokuniewicz


The guiding idea was to design a building adapted to the needs of every person seeking shelter there, that is, for women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities. The entire building tries to respond to needs by providing zones with varying degrees of privacy. For women and children in such a difficult situation, privacy is very important, so each family should have its own room. All rooms are equipped with modular furniture for sleeping and storing personal belongings, and there is a small living area and a bathroom. The windows have low sills so that both young children and wheelchair users can freely observe their surroundings.

2nd floor plan room

2nd floor plan and room interior

© Joanna Bokuniewicz

The kitchens are shared by only two families, which provides privacy, but also gives the opportunity for conversation with others. The most public spaces are located at the intersection of the two wings; all residents can use them freely. Each floor houses a different public function. Half of the shelter's residents are children of different ages, so a playroom for the youngest children, a space for teenagers and a place to study or work, among other things, have been proposed.

auditorium auditorium

lecture hall

© Joanna Bokuniewicz

Functions located on the first floor support the operation of the shelter. These include offices, counseling centers and workshop rooms. Outdoor spaces are also important in the shelter. The balcony serves as a semi-private space that women can arrange according to their own needs and preferences. It is also a point from which they can observe the neighborhood and what is happening in the garden. An additional function is a neighborhood club and playground. Such a place could host open meetings, workshops, events for residents and the women and children of the center. Such an open neighborhood space could be a transitional stage for women and children on the road to independence, and on the other hand, raise awareness and sensitize neighborhood residents.

children's room children's room

children's room

© Joanna Bokuniewicz


The proposed building structure is made of cross-laminated timber (CLT). This material is very durable, easy to work with and install, ecological, improves comfort and air quality inside the building.


Illustrations: © Author

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