Monday, September 3, 2012

Reinterpreting Play

After visiting multiple clinics and various settings for child therapy, it has become extremely apparent that the design of the interior spaces is often an afterthought. Most clinics and OT gyms are set in renovated office buildings which can restrict the layout and utility of space. Due to this most OT equipment is just ordered from a standard company and installed as stand alone equipment with little thought to how it integrates with space. The first thought that came to my mind after observing how the clinics function is how limited they are because of the spatial restrictions of the buildings that they are confined to. The design of most clinics for children's therapy is extremely dry and boring... although they are definitely warm spaces developed with the child in mind they are very far from the maximum potential. So here are some images of settings that break the mold of the norm. I am using these designs as precedent studies and seeds of inspiration.

The first set of images is the Aarhus gymnastics and motor skills hall in Denmark. Each picture I have chosen specifically for the content within it. You will notice that the equipment in this gym is very similar to what you would find in an Sensory Integrated Occupational Therapy gym, however the design of the gym itself is completely unique.

 This awesome playground is in Japan, it is called the Woods of Net. It has such a playful composition that is welcoming to children. The soft material allows for safe play, in addition there are hanging swings that are also reminiscent of the equipment in an OT gym. The children can swing on the structure or climb underneath it. It is a creative design that could be applied directly to sensory integration therapy.

Rock walls are also found in SI OT gyms... why not express them so that they are integrated to the space, perhaps in this way they will not be seen as a specific obstacle but rather integrated into the structure of the surrounding environment. 

Taka-Tuka Land shows that small crawl spaces for children can be creative and fun, children often seek tight spaces for comfort and retreat so why not make them inviting. The varying heights and depths of space can help with the proprioceptive and vestibular therapy. 

I am aware that economics plays a large part in design and most often children's clinics operate on an extremely limited budget. However the role of a architectural designer is to work with a budget and still create stimulating spaces. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Sensory Integration Therapy (SI) is a neurobehavioral theory first introduced in the 1970's by Jean Aryes (Kurtz, 2009). It describes a theory primarily practiced in occupational therapy, "Essentially, the theory holds that disordered sensory integration accounts for some aspects of learning disorders and that enhancing sensory integration will make some academic learning easier for those children whose problem lies in that domain. Sensory integration, or the ability to organize sensory integration for use, can be improved through controlling its input to activate brain mechanisms." (Aryes, 1973)  Sensory input is organized through the central nervous system and allows the body to respond accordingly to the surrounding environment. (Kurtz,2009)  "Sensory integrative processes result in perception and other types of synthesis of sensory data that enable man to interact effectively with the environment" (Aryes,1973) A disordered sense perception can alter a child's success in the surrounding environment, and hinder learning as a result. 
Sensory Integration Therapy relies on controlling environmental stimuli to isolate specific senses. Since the therapy requires a controlled environment it is theoretically plausible that the architecture and interior design  in which the therapy takes place can have a direct impact on level of success during treatment. This research will propose an architectural intervention for the environment in which therapy is conducted that responds to the unique nature of the user and in turn enable the environment to become more conducive to successful treatment. 

I am focusing my research on designing a children's therapy clinic... After visiting multiple environments from classrooms to residential housing I have deduced that the buildings relating to therapy contain parameters that would benefit most from architectural interventions. 

The design of the building will be centered around sensory integrated therapy gyms, while also taking into consideration programatic elements that are standard in clinical settings.

I will use the theory associated to sensory integrated therapy and treatment methods to help to set up rules as a foundation for design. 

Ayres, J. (1973). Sensory integration and learning disorders. (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.

Kurtz, L. A. (2009). Understanding controversial therapies for children with autism, attention deficit disorder, and other learning disabilities, a guide to complementary. Jessica Kingsley Pub.

Monday, April 2, 2012

5th annual World Autism Awareness Day

Today marks the 5th annual World Autism Awareness Day 

In recognition I have decided to launch my first blog accordingly. 

I have created this blog as an extension of my Masters research to act as an interactive resource. The goal of this blog is to provide a platform where people can post their opinion and provide feedback on topics of Autism and Architecture. 

Here is a brief summary of my Research Topic,

"Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex condition that affects neurological brain development. There are multiple characterizations of the disorder, which makes it difficult to define in a single term. It primarily influences social interaction, verbal communication, and causes repetitive behavioral patterns. 

Autism is connected to early brain development in infants and toddlers that is typically diagnosed between the ages of 2-4. It affects all ethnicity's but it is most prevalent amongst the male sex, approximately 1 in every 110 infants in the United States is autistic (Center for Disease Control). These children have extremely specialized needs in that each case of autism is unique. Most children have distinctive abilities and are extremely proficient in academics, visualization, and music. However many of them are unable to live independently and approximately 25% of people with ASD are non-verbal but do have the ability to communicate through other means (Autism Speaks).

The focus of this directed design research is to use digital technology coupled with environmental psychology to develop an ASD Children’s Clinic designed to assist in sensory integration to positively affect the autistic user and create a model of the beneficial possibilities of architectural intervention in the field of Autism.

Strategic and in-depth research into the various types of autism as well as treatments, will help facilitate a set of parameters which will help guide the design principles to create a beneficial architecture for these children of highly specialized needs. My goal is to provide an environment that could act as positive catalyst in the process of treating autism for both the autistic user and the physicians that assist in the everyday."

This is a year long research assignment that will conclude in an architectural prototype of an ASD children's clinic. I am not an expert on the topic of Autism however I am actively researching and  quickly becoming more familiar. Approaching this topic from the view of an outsider makes it extremely challenging. Visiting clinics and interacting with autistic children will provide primary sources of information that will offer insight that I could not otherwise obtain with traditional research methods. 

My goal is to understand the autistic user in relation to the environment so that I can adapt sensory aspects of the built environment accordingly. My vision is to create a clinic that facilitates multiple aspects of autism, so that individuals can be treated as individuals and in turn feel a belonging to a greater collective.