El Dorado

El Dorado

Kansas City, MO


For Youth and Trauma, El Dorado Designs an Oregon Haven of Healing

By ccsullivan
Jun 13, '24 1:41 PM EST
Aerial view of the Parrott Creek campus for youth and families, now in construction. Courtesy El Dorado
Aerial view of the Parrott Creek campus for youth and families, now in construction. Courtesy El Dorado

There are new ways architecture and design firms are better serving youth, families and communities that have experienced trauma and mental health challenges, the designer and educator-advocate Elisandra Garcia with El Dorado is a nationally recognized and fierce proponent of best practices.

As Garcia says, a new generation of innovative social service groups “is seeking to redefine the care provided to today’s youth dealing with mental health disorders, emphasizing diversity and inclusivity.” The big question is, she says, how can buildings, interior spaces and landscapes foster healing, a sense of safety, and a connection to the natural world around us?

Next month, Garcia and her colleague, architect Sophie Hong, both with the national architecture, urban design and fabrication practice El Dorado based in Kansas City, Mo., and Portland, Ore., will speak on this topic at the popular Digital Design Series, a program of the state’s chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), AIA Oregon. Their talk shows how, in the face of government neglect and a gap in needed mental health and addition services, better equipped organizations are helping fill the need.

“Architects, landscape designers and others have to recognize the significance of trauma-informed design — a relatively new yet very promising field — in addressing the mental health and well-being of highly traumatized youth,” says Garcia, who serves as director of engagement for El Dorado. (See bio below.) “This involves the incorporation of safety measures and soft transitions in architectural design to support their healing journey, as well as other resources such as the relational healing impact between the landscape, spatial design, and young clients and residents.”

A Case Study of Design for Traumatized Youth

Garcia and Hong will discuss a case study, their work on Parrott Creek Child & Family Services, in collaboration with real estate developer Adre. Their multiphase expansion and construction project for the Oregon City, Ore., campus — among the nation’s first of its kind — will enhance residential treatment for traumatized youth. It is funded by private and public sources.

“Our aim is to create modern, supportive buildings that double the capacity of the facility to care for up to 40 youth outpatients and residents, addressing the pressing need for such services in Oregon,” says Sophie Hong, AIA, project architect with El Dorado. “By working with local and national experts, Parrott Creek seeks to redefine the care provided. Using  trauma-informed design, they are leveraging the landscape — including wetlands, creeks, meadows, and forest — as a resource for nature therapy, indigenous environmental stewardship, and community access.”

The importance of creating tailor-fit spaces for diverse communities centered on youth experiences has real implications for practicality, cost-effectiveness, and flexibility, while also promoting equitable access and elevating the human experience, the architects add. Their work includes collaborative efforts with organizations such as the University of Oregon, Harvard Graduate School of Design, and nonprofit design enrichment program Your Street Your Voice. The project also won a citation award in the 2023 Oregon Architecture Awards.

About the Talk

Part of the chapter’s Digital Design Series, AIA Oregon hosts the events and provides details here.

About Parrott Creek
"Uplifting lives, creating futures": Since 1968, Parrott Creek Child and Family Services has been supporting youth and families impacted by the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, as well as those struggling with addiction, mental health needs, or homelessness. Their approach is to address the various social, economic and health factors that cause trauma to individuals and communities and that lead to reduced access to resources, supports and opportunities.

Combining evidence-based and trauma-informed treatment models with restorative justice and mindfulness, Parrott Creek helps individuals become aware of past and current behaviors, and develop tools to make concrete changes. Programs range from early interventions and community support to outpatient treatment and intensive residential services.

About Elisandra Garcia
Elisandra Garcia, as the Director of Engagement and Project Designer at El Dorado Architects, brings a wealth of experience in design justice, which is deeply rooted in her personal journey, activism, and education. Born and raised in Ciudad Juárez, México, Elisandra Garcia's background as a first-generation Mexican immigrant and a proud member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community has been an influential force driving her passion for social justice. Her formative years in a border town afford her a unique perspective on the profound impacts of urban design, community development, and architecture.

Elisandra holds a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from Texas Tech University and a Master of Architecture with Honors from Washington University in St. Louis. With over a decade of experience in community and stakeholder engagement, coupled with a diverse portfolio of activist and engagement projects spanning both sides of the US-Mexico border, Elisandra stands as an emerging designer, educator, and scholar specializing in social and environmental justice. Elisandra became the Design for Spatial Justice Fellowship recipient from the University of Oregon in 2021 to 2023. Currently, she continues to play a pivotal role as an educator and founder of the Urban Violence Laboratory in Portland.

Her commitment to advancing the field of architecture and social justice led her to join the El Dorado Portland office in 2022. Within her role at El Dorado, Elisandra spearheads Engagement and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) metrics. In addition to her work at the firm and university, she holds the position of Fellow at the National Dean’s Equity and Inclusion Initiative with Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC. Her multifaceted role at El Dorado Architects, coupled with her extensive academic and activist achievements, showcases her profound commitment to the values of inclusivity, equality, and social progress.

About El Dorado
We chase big ideas in the middle of everywhere: Established in 1996, El Dorado is an integrated architecture, urban design, curatorial, education and fabrication practice located in Kansas City, Missouri and Portland, Oregon. In the beginning, as equal parts art gallery, fabrication shop and design studio, we were known for fingerless gloves and raffish outbursts that helped jumpstart Kansas City’s emergent culture. Today, we work purposefully across scales, locations, and contexts, from city blocks to exhibitions, between critical ideas and our intangible, spiritual attachment to place. El Dorado’s sole partner, two studio directors, four directors and staff of 20-plus professionals — including 11 architects, two university professors, industrial designers, and certified welders — chase big ideas with a common touch. More at