Research is currently underway that will enable the development of the first British Standards Institute (BSI) guidelines for designing for people who can be classed as neurodivergent: a term that encompasses a range of conditions, such as dementia, autism, dyspraxia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The guidelines are likely to cover four distinct areas: spatial characteristics, including lighting and distractions; way finding; safeguarding, such as avoiding the potential for feelings of entrapment; and design features.
Under an initiative dubbed 'Design for the Mind', the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art has been commissioned to carry out the research for BSI. The centre has launched an online survey in order to gather evidence on what makes an environment comfortable and/or challenging, and ideas on how the built environment can be improved for people who are neurodivergent. The survey is available until 1 November 2016.
The researchers are seeking responses from those with experience of neurodivergent conditions, particularly professionals who have worked in this area, as well as carers and family members.
Project leader Rob Turpin, Healthcare Market Development Manager at BSI, explains there are no design guidelines to date addressing conditions of the mind beyond the knowledge possessed by some highly specialised care providers.
BSI's 2009 BS8300 on building access, cited in the Building Regulations, is well used and offers clear recommendations, but it deals only with physical impairment and wheelchair access.
'What became apparent is how compartmentalised any guidance is, with no commonality that architects or building managers can follow,' says Turpin.
'It also became clear that the effect design features can have on people, whether it's shiny floors, stripy carpets, air conditioning noise or even door handles, often did not become apparent until after a building had been commissioned.'
Turpin accepts that the emerging BSI guidelines will likely have to deal with mainstream environments, such as railway stations and supermarkets, separately from specialised care facilities where there is a high concentration of people with a particular condition. However, the hope is that there will be lessons learnt from the specialists that can be brought into the mainstream.
Thanks to Rob Turpin, Healthcare Market Development Manager at BSI, and Faith Wray at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art.
Text by Neal Morris, © RIBA