Living with autism can present difficulties at every turn, from the anxiety of eye contact to troubles communicating. It also affects people in radically different ways – which makes designing spaces for people on the spectrum a tough (and rewarding) challenge.
Charity Hft appointed us to design a new residential facility for adults living with autism, including a number of flats as well as resources and accommodation for care staff. The diverse ways in which people experience autism meant that the spaces needed to be highly flexible, and to allow residents to direct their own homes and movements – something which would also allow them to become naturally more independent.
We arranged the flats around a central courtyard, which our landscape team designed to include comforting repetition and a calm environment in which carers could interact with residents outside of their homes. A circulation route wraps around the courtyard and allows residents to walk in either direction when leaving their homes without having to double back. This was a crucial part of design, as autism can mean that residents find it distressing to pass or make eye contact with other residents.
Flexibility is built into every element of the flats. For instance, residents can change their wall panels to choose bold colours, a neutral palette, or a stimulating pattern. They can also draw a curtain around their bed, creating a cosy and reassuring snug.
The residential unit is a shining example of how homes can – and should – be designed to fit those living there. We’ve loved working with Hft on the project, and learning more about designing spaces that give people with autism comfort, independence, and choice.