Leeds School of Arts | Blog

Autism-Friendly Design: Learning about Real Life through the Virtual Environment

Students from BA (Hons) Interior Architecture & Design have been on a mission to spread the word about their autism-friendly design projects, with their tutor Joan Love. Additionally, the briefs provided an opportunity to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, integrating a series of design ideas relating to social distancing, hygiene and materials with natural anti-microbial properties.

Learning about Real Life through the Virtual Environment

Fig 1. Megan Boller, IAD student, Freehand Visual for Adult Autism Living Accommodation.

Students presented their projects, on Microsoft Teams, to seven professionals from varied, yet inter-related backgrounds, all wanting to make a difference.

A small flavour of the informed and positive feedback which the students received:

Leeds City Council:

‘I sit in front of designers and architects who are bringing schemes to us and I haven’t seen or heard anything from them that is as good as what I’ve heard from yourselves and that’s absolutely the truth of the matter. Meaningful purpose has come through so strongly. I’ve written it down 5 times just because I want to hear that from them. I’m going to be putting it back to them and saying: tell me whereabouts in this design you have put meaningful purpose in this person’s life and that’s just been brilliant to hear from you. Excellent.’

Anna Clifford, Programme Manager Service Transformation, Adults and Health.

‘All presentations today have got to the core of what Leeds City Council is trying to do in terms of our commissioning, so really focusing on how the projects integrate within the community.’

Liam Brook, Senior Project Officer, Service Transformation, Adults and Health.

‘We regularly work on large scale projects with very large teams of experienced consultants. Architects who’ve 20-30 years’ experience in practice and very few of them come up with as considered designs and presentations as todays.’

Daniel Kinghorn, Principal Design Officer, City Development.

‘Quite a playful approach to something but also real issues for this user group so yes I thought it was really good. Good use of precedent images to portray your ideas alongside your own sketches and models.’

Abbey Forster, Senior Design Officer, City Development.  

Autism Professionals:

‘I love that you have natural light, but not direct sunlight is very clever, the place is bright and cheery, people can see what they are doing but there is no direct sunlight that can be overwhelming for some people.’

Louise Holdsworth, Advanced Sensory Integration Practitioner, Occupational Therapist at Sensory-OT4me Ltd.

‘The definite winner for me was the indoor swing. That’s definitely something we want in our new autism classroom!’

Sarah Parry, Deputy Head/SENCo, St Peter's C.E. Primary School, Leeds.

‘I think that you have done a really good job at creating what I would consider to be an adapted environment to help increase inclusivity. Horticulture for me, is a bit of a hot topic. If we ever decide to renovate or improve that area of the College, we should have a chat with our Principal and give him some of your ideas.’

Tom Hilton, Positive Behaviour Support Practitioner at Henshaw’s Specialist College, Harrogate.

Click here more information about applying to BA(Hons) Interior Architecture and Design.

Students Presenting to Professionals on Microsoft Teams

Fig 2: Students Presenting to Professionals on Microsoft Teams.

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About the Author

Joan Love

Joan Love is a senior lecturer and an artist who has experience of interior design in architectural practice. Her on-going research explores innovative, art-based approaches within the early stages of design development, currently encompassing autism-friendly environments.

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