For the last year or so we’ve been working as the Interior designers for the Birkett House special school new build scheme in Leicestershire. Our client is Leicestershire County Council with the main contractor as Willmott Dixon Construction.
A key part of what we do are the engagement processes we like to develop with a school in order to understand how they tick so that our design can be part of the transformative outcomes for staff and pupil.
One of these projects has been an inclusive mosaic project for the hydrotherapy pool that encouraged every pupil and lots of staff to produce a mosaic tile to help energise the pool area and contribute to a sense of ownership.
The overall concept was that the mosaic tiles would be arranged in a pattern similar in concept to the Lego urban art interventions and the tessellated super graphics being used in other places around the school such as the circulation areas. The background thinking to this is that pupils on the autistic spectrum respond favourably to logical repeated patterns which in turn contributes to a calming environment.
We created a template for the mosaics based on the 250x500mm standard white pool tile. This was the template that the school used to set out their mosaics. After some initial worries that we wouldn’t be able to produce enough tiles; the school eventually generated over 150 mosaic sets – more than enough!
We ran inset training workshops with the staff and also supervised some of the pupil workshops to ensure that we had a consistent approach. The task itself particularly suited children on the autistic spectrum as it requires accuracy, gluing the tiles precisely within the lines, and an ability to develop abstract patterns.
One member of staff working with complex needs children with limited motor skills devised a particularly creative approach on how to engage her class. Children painted their design onto the mosaic template which was then duplicated by members of staff as the final mosaic pattern. This was a very good solution to the challenge of enabling every pupil to contribute to the scheme.
Today patients and staff are moving into the brand new FitzRoy House CAMHS unit.
We were commissioned by St Andrews Healthcare Trust to deliver a design integration project as part of their new Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) unit. The two storey facility will give specialised bespoke care for up to 110 young people and is the largest residential mental health facility for adolescents within Europe.
Early on we involved the service users in an engagement programme which explored every aspect of the new building. These workshops generated ideas which helped to develop the concepts for the interior design of the building; providing a positive environment and one which will ease the service users’ transition into their new building.
We used the workshop process to discuss how different colours made them feel which we then developed into a set of biophilic themes around nature with colour schemes linked to ‘Field + Sky’. This theme and the conversations we had were used to inform the naming of the 11 new wards such as Brook, Fern and Berry and also the colours, super graphics and zones around the building.
Starting in the wards; the most private spaces, super graphics were used to identify and personalise each space including the ensuite bathrooms, the dining rooms and each ward entrance. The themes and colours were also used to develop coherent wayfinding elements for the public spaces with features in the main entrance, the Education area, Sports facilities and outdoor spaces. An important part of the integrated design approach was to develop modular systems which could be used throughout the building. One example of this are the display boards on each ward which will be ‘owned’ and customised by each service user as well as the circulation 3D display cases. We even worked on a 1:1 basis with one service user to create the signage for the ‘Branch Out’ cafe.
A critical part of the whole design process was the sampling and qualifying of designs and specifications for the new unit. Aside from the paramount anti-ligature concerns the client has extensive experience in what does and doesn’t work in relation to safeguarding issues for their service users. The challenge was to integrate these stringent design parameters into the various manufactured elements whilst at the same time maintaining a light touch – a hard trick to pull off but one we feel we succeeded in achieving. The overall feel of the spaces is of light, natural textures and colour which encourages the user to journey through the building taking a walk through fields and sky.
Take a look here for more background information on the project.
Architect : P+HS Architects
Contractor : Galliford Try
Client : St Andrews Healthcare Trust
Agent : Willis Newson
There’s a new phrase being used which some people might not be familiar with; Biophilia or biophilic design.
The term ‘biophilia’ means “love of life or living systems.” It was first used by Erich Fromm to describe a psychological orientation of being attracted to all that is alive and vital. Wilson uses the term in the same sense when he suggests that biophilia describes “the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.” He proposed the possibility that the deep affiliations humans have with other life forms and nature as a whole are rooted in our biology.
An extract from PATTERNS OF BIOPHILIC DESIGN – Improving Health & Well-Being in the Built Environment (you can read more here) gives a useful insight;
Biomorphic Forms & Patterns has evolved from research on view preferences (Joye, 2007), reduced stress due to induced shift in focus, and enhanced concentration. We have a visual preference for organic and biomorphic forms but the science behind why this is the case is not yet formulated. While our brain knows that biomorphic forms and patterns are not living things, we may describe them as symbolic representations of life (Vessel, 2012).
Nature abhors right angles and straight lines; the Golden Angle, which measures approximately 137.5 degrees, is the angle between successive florets in some flowers, while curves and angles of 120 degrees are frequently exhibited in other elements of nature (e.g., Thompson, 1917).
The Fibonacci series (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34…) is a numeric sequence that occurs in many living things, plants especially. Phyllotaxy, or the spacing of plant leaves, branches and flower petals (so that new growth doesn’t block the sun or rain from older growth) often follows in the Fibonacci series. Related to the Fibonacci series is the Golden Mean (or Golden Section), a ratio of 1:1.618 that surfaces time and again among living forms that grow and unfold in steps or rotations, such as with the arrangement of seeds in sunflowers or the spiral of seashells.
Biomorphic forms and patterns have been artistically expressed for millennia, from adorning ancient temples to more modern examples like Hotel Tassel in Brussels (Victor Horta, 1893) and the structures of Gare do Oriente in Lisbon (Santiago Calatrava, 1998). More intriguing still is the architectural expression of mathematical proportions or arrangements that occur in nature, the meaning of which has been fodder for philosophical prose since Aristotle and Euclid. Many cultures have used these mathematical relationships in the construction of buildings and sacred spaces. The Egyptian Pyramids, the Parthenon (447-438 BC), Notre Dame in Paris (beginning in 1163), the Taj Mahal in India (1632–1653), the CN Tower in Toronto (1976), and the Eden Project Education Centre in Cornwall, UK (2000) are all alleged to exhibit the Golden Mean.
As designers we’re seeing the possibilities of implementing these ideas in lots of areas. This is being increasingly supported by manufacturers such as Interface, manufacturer of flooring products, who’ve been championing Biophilia in their product ranges for some time.
For finishes in general these areas can include;
• Fabrics, carpet, wallpaper designs based on Fibonacci series or Golden Mean
• Window details: trim and mouldings, glass colour, texture, mullion design, window reveal detail
• Installations and free-standing sculptures
• Furniture details
• Acoustic paneling (wall or ceiling)
• Wall decal, paint style or texture
At a larger scale many designers are looking at;
• The arrangement of the structural system (e.g., columns shaped like trees)
• The building form
• Railings, banisters, fencing, gates
• Window details: frit, light shelves, fins
We’re currently working on an interior scheme for a new build special school in Leicestershire. Part of the wayfinding strategy is to zone areas of the building with super graphics. These patterns are based on natural mathematical forms found in nature and are being expressed as large super graphic applied on walls around the building. One of the reasons for using this approach aside from the natural theme benefits it will bring to the building is that recent studies have shown that children on the autism spectrum are good at recognising pattern.
Brain regions associated with recognising patterns tend to light up more in autistic people than the general population, perhaps explaining why those with autism often excel at visual tasks.
A new study published in the journal ‘Human Brain Mapping’ says;
The studies provide evidence that people with autism tend to perform strongly on visual tasks , said researcher Laurent Mottron of the Centre for Excellence in Pervasive Development Disorders at the University of Montreal. Mottron goes on to say, “people with autism have larger visual activity, something that’s already known at a behavioural level to some extent”.
Researchers analysed 26 brain imaging studies that included 357 people with autism and 370 people without autism. In all imaging studies, regardless of the research design or task presented to the study participants, the temporal and occipital brain regions had increased brain activity compared with non-autistic people.
“It means that the autistic brain is reorganised, but it’s not reorganised in a disorganised way,” Mottron said. “It’s reorganised in the sense of favouring visual expertise.”
The studies focused on people with less severe autism. Autism spectrum disorders affect about 1 percent of children ages 3 to 17, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Autism hinders people’s ability to sense social cues and interact normally with others.
The study results show that in order to improve symptoms of people with autism, “we have to do it in their way” by building on the natural properties of their brains, Mottron said.
We recently ran some engagement sessions for a large CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) scheme that we’re working on.
Here’s some lovely feedback we received from a senior member of staff;
“The latest service user art workshops took place on 14th – 16th October. Eric Klein Velderman facilitated the workshops with service users in order to develop the final designs for the new building through consultation and creative engagement with our service users. These designs included a number of integrated and graphic based artworks for the ward dining rooms, ward games rooms, the sports hall, education & therapy entrance, café, main entrance and each ward staff base and ward entrance.
The workshops saw up to 30 service users taking part each day across all units within the Adolescent Pathway. There were very positive reactions from the service users when Eric showed them the overall scheme with comments such as “That’s going to be wicked” and “That’s cool that we’ll have the same staff (!), what will the bedrooms look like?”
Eric skilfully managed to tailor each workshop according to the different abilities & needs of the young people, grading and selecting activities depending on cognitive abilities, their motor skills and communication abilities. He used a variety of teaching approaches including demonstration, modelling, verbal instructions, physical and verbal prompts in order for the young people to be successful and engage in the activity to complete an end product. He introduced all the workshops, explaining the aim of the workshops and putting this into the wider context of the overall art plan for the new building. This sparked enthusiasm for the project from both the staff and young people.
He tailored his communication skills to the needs of the young people; for example when working with the autistic population, simplifying instructions given and planning 3 step tasks where there was immediate cause and effect. He engaged brilliantly with the service users, engaging and consulting with their ideas, expanding on their ideas and praising them throughout. He demonstrated excellent therapeutic use of self in his approach to engage service users, responding with humour to young people who engaged in playful ‘banter’ but with others being very gentle, quiet and calm to put the young people at ease”.
We were recently asked to provide a summary of the principles that we used in developing the color scheme at Ysgol Y Gogarth for a case study that Akzol Nobel are producing. Below is an excerpt from our report;
The starting point for the scheme was to develop a colour palette which drew inspiration from the surrounding external Welsh landscape with the proximity of the sea, coast and mountains all within eyesight of the new school. This was linked to the focus that the school had on encouraging their pupils to get involved in numerous outdoor activities including climbing, skiing and canoeing. On my first visit to the old school I was struck by the outward looking ethos of the school and its daily approach of encouraging physical interaction with the landscape of the area.
There was a parallel dialogue with the school about how the internal finishes would influence and contribute to positive interaction with their pupils. One particular concern was that the school wanted the Ground floor (the entry point at the start of the start of the school day) to be a place of calm especially for their Autistic spectrum pupils for whom discordant colours and abrupt floor transitions would pose issues.
Another consideration was the wide spectrum of abilities within the school including those pupils with visual impairment needs as well as low levels of literacy. These factors were important when thinking about wayfinding within the new building as the use of signage would be limited as a consequence whereas the use of visual cues such as colour and texture would be emphasized.
As a result of considering all these elements the school was zoned into distinct thematic areas of ‘Sea’ for the Ground Floor and ‘Mountain’ for the First Floor with the ‘Forest’ acting as the transition points between those zones. Externally a ‘Coastal’ theme was used to bind together the various outdoor elements. A palette of shades of sea blues was used on the Ground floor to help develop a sense of calm whilst on the First floor stronger shades of mountain greens and purples were used to emphasise the energy and seniority of pupils as they progressed through the school.
Another guiding principle for the colour scheme was that all the end users would benefit from the scheme having a strong visual logic. A sense of repetition would be used to help locate people as they moved around the spaces. For instance aside from the differentiation between the ground and first floors, the core spaces such as offices and medical rooms were allocated their own core colour scheme. This was replicated across all the floors and was done to help confirm the differences and transition from and between pupil and administration spaces.
The scheme used the principle of feature wall colours contrasted with Wiltshire White on non feature walls. The feature wall colours were used partly as a tool for wayfinding; blocks of colors which guided people through the building, and also as a way of defining the various zones of the school. Within the stairwells large 6m high composite images of birch trees photographed at different times of the year were used to transition between the Ground and First floor. The principle staircase used by most people throughout the day combined a strong feature wall colour with a polycarbonate wall with seaweed graphics. Colour was used here to pull people up the stairs and onto the next floor.
Attention was paid to sightlines within the building. Although a relatively deep plan building the architects were able to maximize views out of the building towards the landscape. How many schools have a view of the coast at the end of a corridor? This principle of creating visual events was bound into the wall colour scheme; block colours were used to provide ‘destinations’ and ‘signposts’ to other parts of the building.
We’ve recently been appointed by Leicestershire County Council to develop the interiors for the Mount Grace/ Holliers Walk refurb primary school scheme. Its been interesting to reflect on the change in focus compared to schemes that we were delivering 10 years ago. Now wayfinding is the first thing that we develop alongside the colour palette. Conversations with the school about how the building will be used and the flow around the space are all key elements in creating a successful wayfinding scheme. Obviously in a primary school there isn’t much need for actual signage but using colour and graphics to zone areas is critical.
The initial elevations show some early thoughts but these will in time be developed much more fully into a coherent wayfinding scheme.