We believe in inclusive design that supports wellbeing, creating uplifting environments is a part of the role of ensuring social, as well as physical accessibility of spaces for our clients.
This project was a barn conversion, ensuring our client could remain living where he wished, while increasing the stock of high quality, desirable and wheelchair accessible housing in the rural welsh countryside.
He lives close to family and close to nature. His home has now become the most popular place for family and friends to gather... it makes people feel great, let's look at how spaces affect mood, sense of confidence and control.
Because accessibility, which is the same as inclusivity, is known to have multiple aspects that effect it, far beyond the usual physical ramps, rails and aids, which can, done wrong - impede accessibility and inclusivity. Beauty is important - because it signals quality, it signals a good experience, and if not tied into social tropes, it offers that good experience to all - resulting in a key aspect of inclusive design. Neccesity of a device or aid should not result in the repulsion of others not in need of such aid. Inclusive design must work both ways. Inclusivity is key for the wellbeing of individuals, wider society and healthy identity formation.
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Sense of safety and agency are key to environmental and social confidence. Agency reflects control over a space, and your ability to interact with that space to meet your needs, being the cause of lasting change within that space. These factors give a sense that the space is part of you - it joins with your body schema / peripersonal space, giving you a sense of confidence, and ability that contribute to healthy functioning and positive decision making.
The spaces bathe their occupants in natural light and green views, giving points of access to the outdoors and wild experiences. All these are easy wins that boost positive mood, and reduce stress on the mind. Having a sense of 'location', orientation and choice in how an environment is navigated, is important. But before we move on to that, let's look at how the room embraces its occupants. We have large windows, but not floor to ceiling glass, apart from the doorways at the far end, but even this is broken up by structural elements. This means occupants can choose their level of 'exposure' or 'shelter', increasing or decreasing their sense of privacy, exposure to natural light, and so forth. This is very important as glass is not seen by the brain as a barrier, and excessive glass use places sub-concious stresses on the mind as it must continually manage what the brain sees as potential intrusion of dangers from the outside world. Being able to manage such experiences through how we use spaces is crucially important where we value wellbeing as the space's purpose.
So, sense of location and navigation - this is governed by having views of the out-doors - I have a sense of where the building I am in, is. Having clear visible links from one space type to another - I have clear choices opening up to me, that I can respond to depending on my mental state to best support me in this moment (person centred design). Designing in this 'opening up' or fractal manner, applies to the micro and macro scales in design. It is how the brain naturally functions in nature - reducing stress burdens through removing abstract choice making that is enforced by poor spacial designs and building layout. Creating clear hierarchy of space experiences is also highly supportive of social confidence. So that the transition between one space type and another is not abrupt, but rather intermediary, transitional space allows for a graduated change of experience that results in a ramped approach to choice making - building confidence a a decision becomes increasingly certain.
In the spaces seen in our design, the bedroom opens onto wide but short coridoor space that acts as a viewpoint across the kitchen / dine space, to the livign space, to natural light and green views. The person living here sees, what is essentially a landcape, and they decide how they would like to navigate those opportunities for themselves. As they approach them other opportunities open up such as a side door to the outside, a link to the shower room. As they move into one arena, multiple ways of inhabiting it are present, allowing social or functional decision making to match confidence, mood and purpose.
Throughout the design, we have used exposed timber, stone, and soft greens and terracotta pigment to give a rich sensory value to the interiors. Texture, reduced contrasts, (away from white, which is an extreme), natural patterning and green views reduce visual stress, and assist with the development of healthy and more accurate body image.
When multiple environmental factors combine to create the sensation of welcome through the way the space interacts with your mind and body, we see boosted social and environmental confidence, enhanced wellbeing and ease of access to the assets that support wellbeing. And the result is that we get popular, engaging spaces that are not simply accessible, but are truly inclusive.
We hope readers are inspired to see that accessibility is not simply about wheelchair accessible environments, but rather about the whole human condition. It involves all of us - the entire neurological and physical spectrum, including for autistic accessibility, elder, dementia and for the rest of us, when we feel low, depressed, stressed, anxious and so on, the environment, well designed to meet our human, psycho-social and neurological needs can have a massive impact on our resultant ability to function well, recover well, and live with sustainable, optimal health.