Florence House

Florence House was designed to serve homeless women through three types of supportive housing – Emergency Shelter, Safe Haven and Efficiency Apartments – all in one building.

The design concept was based on very specific needs of women whose daily life is trying to avoid exploitation and simply to survive.

First, women needed to feel comfortable and safe.

The majority of residents have experienced trauma and are vulnerable. To help build trust, the design team met with residents in their current shelter to discuss design ideas. Feedback from residents helped influence color, flooring and other selections. They wanted a vibrant, joyful home.

The spacious lobby and circular reception desk that greet the women help put residents at ease. Curved walls and ceiling elements define spaces discreetly and continue that welcoming theme.

The Emergency Shelter (for short-term stays) and Safe Haven (for chronically homeless women who aren’t ready to live independently) were on the first floor only. These programs share lobby, bathroom, dining, gathering and laundry areas.

Residents who are able to live more independently need isolation from the shelter to stay focused on their goals. This was solved by putting the Efficiency Apartments on the upper floors with a separate secured access from the lobby. These studios have a kitchenette, living / sleeping areas, closets and ¾ bathrooms. There are shared community spaces such as laundry, gathering and learning centers also.

Second, it was critical that staff have as much direct access to all areas indoors and out.

Tinted storefront glazing and ¾ height interior walls keep things as “transparent” as possible, while balancing privacy needs. Staff can easily see and hear situations and respond immediately. These design features also support the low-barrier concept for women whose lifestyle consists of an open and public space.

Viewable from the lobby, the design incorporates a front plaza that serves as a popular gathering area for residents and provides a connection to the larger community.

Third, green design was important.

The design team followed MaineHousing Green Standards incorporating an efficient building envelope; geothermal heating/cooling; solar domestic hot water; efficient plumbing and light fixtures; native plant materials; low VOC paints, adhesive and sealants; and durable materials.

Fourth, belonging in the residential neighborhood.

To fit within this varied urban neighborhood, the exterior resembles the clapboard sided, flat roof residences nearby. Old port bricks and metal projecting roofs tied it into the commercial aspects of this district.

Architecture or A/E Firm 
Gawron Turgeon Architects

Project Architect 
Rebecca L. Dillon, RA, LEED AP

Project Team 
Stanley Gawron; Mary E. Turgeon; Wendi Holden; Anne Pelletier; Rachel Sunnell, RLA; Kevin Downing

Bennett Engineering; Becker Structural Engineers

Project Location 
190 Valley Street, Portland, Maine

Avesta Housing

General Contractor 

Photo Credits 
01 exterior ©Jeff Stevensen; 02 exterior ©Jeff Stevensen ; 03 lobby ©Jeff Stevensen ; 04 shelter ©Gawron Turgeon Architects; 05 shelter ©Gawron Turgeon Architects; 06 safe haven ©Gawron Turgeon Architects; 07 lobby ©Gawron Turgeon Architects; 08 dining ©Gawron Turgeon Architects; 09 site plan ©Gawron Turgeon Architects; 10 first floor plan ©Gawron Turgeon Architects; 11 second floor plan ©Gawron Turgeon Architects; 12 third floor plan ©Gawron Turgeon Architects