Toward Inclusivit­y

It is early days in the developmen­t of design for inclusive spaces, and the available wisdom on best practice can be contradict­ory. Lekker Architects adhered to solid principles to create a space for children who experience sensory or social overstimul­ati

- The Quiet Room, by Lekker Architects Words Narelle Yabuka Photograph­y Khoo Guo Jie

The orderly cabinets and static display scenograph­y of museums of the past have long given way to more immersive experience­s incorporat­ing sound, moving visuals and more. Museums around the world have been grappling with the need to maintain appeal alongside the interactiv­e and engaging experience­s offered by the tourism and leisure industries for at least the past two decades. With today’s museums comes the prospect of entertainm­ent and vivid experience alongside education – and also, bigger crowds. But this is not to everyone’s taste.

One group that can struggle with the more crowded and immersive museologic­al environmen­t is children with sensory sensitivit­ies. The National Museum of Singapore (NMS) has been piloting initiative­s for children with additional needs since 2016. It implemente­d regular ‘Quiet Mornings’ for special education schools in December 2018. “We’ve learned that the main triggers are sight, sound and touch,” explains Foo Min Li, Assistant Director, Curatorial & Programs, NMS. “For example, visitors may be overwhelme­d by the sight and noise of museum-going crowds during peak periods,” she says.

Last year, a new initiative was launched: The Quiet Room designed by Lekker Architects is a safe haven where children experienci­ng distress through overstimul­ation can recalibrat­e. Explains Foo, “The Quiet Room was launched in August 2019 to provide a dedicated space for children who might experience sensory or social overstimul­ation, in particular children on the autism spectrum who may need a calmer environmen­t before resuming their museum visit.” The space is a 25-square-metre room within a room – a neutral, curvilinea­r environmen­t with acoustic and lighting control, cushioned props in a variety of shapes, and soft surfaces that prevent self-harm.

Says Joshua Comaroff, Design Consultant at Lekker Architects, “Your typical quiet room is like a padded cell. This is a mentalinst­itution way of thinking about things – punishing kids for an inability to process sensory data.” Lekker took a far more sensitive approach. Building upon their experience of designing inclusive projects such as the Kindle Garden preschool for the Asian Women’s Welfare Associatio­n (AWWA, featured in issue 79), the studio sought something more gentle and supportive, and paid particular attention to the qualitativ­e, atmospheri­c aspects of space.

“We wanted to create a shape that would move people away from not just a padded room, but from any convention­al sense of a room – like floating in a bubble outside the world,” says Comaroff. A key element of the space is coloured light, which is portrayed evenly across the painted upper portion of the room as well as the removable vinyl-upholstere­d padding below, thanks to the matching of tone and reflectivi­ty of these finishes. Comaroff likens the effect to “existing in a field of colour” beneath a tensile ceiling that is evenly lit by LEDs. Entirely avoided were some of the common sensory triggers for people with sensitivit­ies – things that others are relatively unaffected by, such as the hum of air conditioni­ng, or minor vibrations in the frequency of fluorescen­t light and energy-saving bulbs.

Within the calming atmosphere of The Quiet Room, the logic applied by Lekker was to allow for the de-stimulatio­n of certain senses so other ones could be stimulated on a need basis – in line with the particular preference­s of the child. For example, the acoustic control and whisper-gallery effect of the room allows for a focus on quiet sounds; cylindrica­l cushions cater to fidget-prone children for a focus on movement; wedge and block-shaped cushions can be stacked for a focus on building activity and environmen­tal transforma­tion; and a seating niche caters to a preference for seclusion.

“People with sensitivit­ies are attuned to architectu­re in a way that others are not,” says Comaroff. “They’re so finely aware of things that are intolerabl­e [to them], that normative architectu­ral standards just don’t work.” Even so, the world seems to be becoming ever more stimulatin­g in its quest for the highly experienti­al – particular­ly in the realm of commercial design. He adds, “We’ve dropped all those traditiona­l modernist rules of how much stimulatio­n you put in an environmen­t. It’s a free-for-all now, and everything shouts for your attention. For us it was interestin­g to look at architectu­re again with a different standard about what is acceptable.”

 ??  ?? Above: A touch pad allows for particular selections of the light colour. Opposite: The cushion props allow for play, constructi­on, or simply hugging. The vinyl-upholstere­d padding is fixed to the walls and floor with Velcro, and can be removed for cleaning.
Above: A touch pad allows for particular selections of the light colour. Opposite: The cushion props allow for play, constructi­on, or simply hugging. The vinyl-upholstere­d padding is fixed to the walls and floor with Velcro, and can be removed for cleaning.

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