2014 Recipient | AIA Housing Awards

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Sweetwater Spectrum Community | Notes of Interest

Sweetwater Spectrum Community was conceived in response to a growing demand for autism-specific supportive housing, which has reached crisis levels. In 2009, a group of families, autism professionals and community leaders founded the nonprofit organization Sweetwater Spectrum to meet the extraordinary need for appropriate, high-quality, long-term housing for adults with autism, offering life with purpose and dignity for residents. Sweetwater Spectrum Community, created as a model project to be replicated nationwide, integrates autism specific design, universal design and sustainable design, and provides a permanent home for 16 adults with autism.

Spaces were designed to reduce sensory stimulation (ambient sound, visual patterns, odors, etc.) and to create a simple, predictable domestic environment. Safety and security are paramount and healthy, durable materials are utilized throughout. Individuals may customize their personal living spaces to accommodate their preferences and particular needs.

One of the most important design goals of Sweetwater Spectrum Community was to provide a safe environment for the residents. As some individuals with autism have behaviors that test the strength of their physical environment, including banging on walls or windows and slamming doors, enhanced durability was essential to protecting the residents. Houses feature industrial-grade doors and high-impact wall finishes, durable flooring including sheet linoleum and replaceable carpet tiles. Another common behavior for adults with autism is water play. All bathrooms have floor drains, tile floor and wall surfaces, and institutional-grade fixtures. The durable materials provide ease of maintenance and a secure environment.

Additional Credits

  • General Contractor: Midstate Construction
  • Interior Designer: One Workplace
  • Civil Engineer: Adobe Associates, Inc.
  • Structural Engineer: Structural Design Group
  • Mechanical, Electrical and Plumming: Timmons Design Engineers
  • Landscape Architects: Roche + Roche Landsape Architecture
  • Lighting: Architectural Lighting Design
  • Acoustics: Charles M. Salter Associates
  • Geotechnical: Miller Pacific Engineering Group
  • Photo Credit: © Tim Griffith, Winni Wintermeyer, and Kyle Jeffers

Sweetwater Spectrum Community

Category: Specialized Housing

Jury Comments

Amazing attention to special needs.

Exquisite replicable prototype for quality housing for adults with autism. Addresses autism, universal and sustainable design issues with total grace and thoughtfulness.

2014 Housing Awards Jury

  • Nancy Ludwig, FAIA, Chair
  • ICON architecture, inc.
  • Charlestown, Massachusetts
  • David Barista
  • Building Design+Construction
  • Arlington Heights, Illinois
  • Louise Braverman, FAIA
  • Louise Braverman Architect
  • New York City
  • Jean Rehkamp Larson, AIA
  • Rehkamp Larson Architects, Inc.
  • Minneapolis

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