Warmth and Welcome at Covenant House

March 1, 2022


In the midst of a global pandemic, Covenant House New York (CHNY) opened the doors of its new, purpose-built facility. Designed by FXCollaborative, the 80,000 square-foot 11-storey site provides food, shelter, and healthcare services to the City’s most vulnerable homeless, runaway, and exploited youth. The space is designed from the ground up to achieve the organization’s core mission to provide an open and welcoming yet safe and secure environment; to celebrate community and never forget the individual; and to function in a way that is both easy to navigate yet flexible enough to allow for change.

Entro worked closely with Covenant House, FXCollaborative, and Envoie Projects to design a customized wayfinding and donor recognition program that aligns with these goals. From the outset of the project, we challenged ourselves with how our work could help to create a feeling of welcome, warmth, and respect, while looking for opportunities to connect people to the place they are in. Additionally, it was imperative that the design strategy was customizable and changeable in order to work for CHNY in what they do each day, as spaces were purposefully designed to have multiple uses.

The new CHNY sits on the same site as the old one, which featured an iconic mural by Katie Yamasaki on one of the exterior walls. This mural, painted in 2011 in conjunction with 360 residents, was deeply personal to CHNY – not only was it used as a beacon to help people identify the building, the subjects depicted in the mural were the residents themselves, using their own words.

Unfortunately, the mural needed to be demolished along with the old building, but not before being thoroughly documented in photographs. These photos and the story they told served as our inspiration. The prominent location of the donor wall was a key opportunity to celebrate the distinct character of Covenant House, its values, and the history of Covenant House in New York. The wall, visible from the exterior, welcomes visitors to the main lobby and incorporates fragments of the mural photographs on dimensional rails, which follow the architectural pattern of the vertical wood rails of the feature stair in the lobby. This connection to the mural introduces themes of community and continuity, as well as the vibrant color palette we used for the entire wayfinding and interior program.

Color forms the basis of the wayfinding strategy at Covenant House, where each hue denotes a different area of the building, not only on the signage, but throughout the interior design. The bright, bold palette is welcoming, energizing and playful. Different areas of the building correspond with the many services and resources Covenant House provides, ranging from Mental and Physical Health and Wellness Services, to educational programs, art and music studios, and lounge and dining areas. Iconography for amenities and services further expand the color palette, using tints and shades of each color, resulting in a sophisticated yet playful sensibility throughout the space.

A key component of the program was fostering a sense of welcome and shelter for the residents using the space, no matter the duration of their stay. To achieve this objective, we isolated the color blue, which we used to identify private residential areas, demarking “your” private space for youth living in the building. As an additional level of customization and nod of respect towards each resident, we designed a changeable frame system that allows each person to display their own art adjacent to their room during their time at CHNY.

Beyond residential areas, flexible signage was required throughout the system. Many CHNY rooms have multiple functions and require identification signs that can be easily updated. Both the upper and lower segments of room signs are removable, held in place by magnets that are easily changed by staff as required.

To welcome the diversity of youth who visit CHNY, all signage is bilingual (English/Spanish) and ADA compliant. Key amenities and services are identified with icons which follow the same color palette as the rest of the wayfinding, allowing for visual comprehension beyond the two languages.

Find out more about Covenant House.

Photography by Chris Cooper, Adam Kane Macchia, and Jessica Schrader.