Designing for Autism - Scott Brownrigg's Work with Cherry Trees

Designing for Autism - Scott Brownrigg's Work with Cherry Trees

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Cherry Trees is a Surrey-based charity that provides professional home care for children and young adults aged 0-19 with a range of complex disabilities, from learning and physical impairments to sensory issues including autism. We have partnered with the charity for the last two years, donating our time to projects that can improve their facility and the experience of their visitors.

Cherry Trees’ CEO Claire Bryant recently delivered a Continuing Professional Development [CPD] session with the staff in our Guildford studio, sharing her experiences of the impact of the built environment on people with autism. In recognition of World Autism Awareness Day, Part II Architectural Assistant Fiona Grieve shares our learnings whilst working on projects with the charity.

During her CPD Claire engaged our staff in simulations of different sensitivities, and explored the impact of everyday objects and their stimuli to the senses. The CPD launched the design brief for the internal competition to design and manufacture a piece of the sensory jigsaw puzzle to be used in their garden.

The senses are exceptionally influential for how people with autism perceive and respond to the world around them. As such, an effectively designed sensory environment can be greatly beneficial for people with autism. To assist Cherry Trees with the great work they do, Scott Brownrigg have worked with them to improve their outdoor facilities, providing a garden that stimulates the senses in an environment the children feel safe in.

The complexity of autism often means each person will be affected differently. The spectrum of stimulation can range between hypo sensitivity (a muted sensitivity to sensory things) to hypersensitivity (an over sensitivity to sensory things) and the various stages in between. The fundamental success of the garden design is ensuring inclusivity for a diversity of sensitivities.

Whilst, as architects, we are usually found designing the built environment, we put our knowledge and experience to use in developing an outdoor design that uses sensory elements to create zones within the garden that can be responsive for varying sensitivities. Each area is connected by a path that provides full accessibility for all children and their needs, creating one long sensory trail. The design utilises new and existing elements of the garden, expanding the accessible play equipment facilities and introducing the natural calming qualities of running water. The expansion of the garden will introduce the tactile experience of gardening to the children, allowing them to experience the textures and processes that come with growing food and flowers. Finally, we are making a colourful jigsaw snake that slithers across the existing walls and fences, softening the boundary of the garden and prompting interaction with its textured and colourful surfaces.

The garden is to be delivered in phases as the staff at Cherry Trees and Scott Brownrigg fundraise to complete the different elements of the garden. The pergola and sensory snake are currently in construction and due for completion in the coming months. We would like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to all those that have donated time, money and supplies to the project. We look forward to providing further updates as the project progresses.

Contributions and support are always much appreciated – our next challenge is surfacing the garden! 

Special thanks to:
David Neale Landscapes
Barnwood Construction
Pebble Property Maintenance
Silent Pool Distillers
Paint Shack
Maui Jim

Bodegas Quiroga de Pablo

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