too little TOO MUCH
Looking at existing sensory therapy practices to inform spatial experience through an expanded definition of access.

Michael Powell, B.Arch
Advised by J. Bard and D. Lockton


Curious to learn more? Please reference this text which lays out more of my research!

 Follow these links to take a closer look at the drawings being presented, or to review terminology.

The discipline of architecture has been criticized for relying on solely visual understandings of space and access, by writers such as Kat Holmes, Juhani Pallasmaa and Ellen Lupton. As Holmes describes, the “mismatches” created through design practices act as building blocks for exclusion. Approaching inclusive design methods with rather than for these excluded occupiers can create elegant solutions that work well and benefit all. Specifically, I look towards Sensory Processing Disorders(SPD) for their impact on people's perception of space by complicating their ability to interpret sensory stimulation.

The thesis project presented builds upon these concerns as it looks to reevaluate design strategies and practices to be more sensorily conscious and inclusive of people with SPD. By questioning existing standards of practice we can work beyond designers' biased assumptions to understand accessibility as more nuanced than mobility challenges alone. I am reevaluating approaches towards programming to be more supportive of various ability identities through a belief that notions of place are realized through those who engage with it. Through conversations with members of these communities, and embracing the spectrum of sensory preferences, we can propose occupations that invite more comfortable learning, eating and living environments.

Through Anna Jean Ayres work, which first explored Sensory Integration Therapy, I propose three guiding principles:

      1. Identify ability biases and mismatched interactions between people and the environment.
      2. Create a diversity of ways to participate in an experience.
      3. Design for interdependence to bring complimentary sensitivities together.

In approaching sensory sensitivities as unique, I propose a neighborhood in Logan, Utah that provides opportunities for long-term housing developments, community programming, and occupational therapy. We should explore the occupations across the site as a gradient that enables self-regulated interactions. Inviting this spectrum of stimulation and engagement alongside areas of selective withdrawal allows for an embrace of varying experiences, and a welcoming environment for individuals to explore their sensory needs. My design proposal embraces these sensory moments along a mediating wall that stretches itself along, and through different programs. As it alters based on the programs adjacent to it, the wall acts as both a mediator and an active communicator with those who engage.


Building as Dynamic Sensory Mediator

This weaving wall is in continuous conversation with individuals as their sensory demands alter throughout their experience. This common element stretches through the mountain's landscape and is accessible through each of the external, and internal programs. Through the invitation of both play and retrospection each individual is allowed to access the environment at the scale of an individual, and a larger community. Building on the concepts of a neighborhood and identity narratives, people can act as self-advocates in exploring various experiences related to alternative types of access. 

The design proposal explores these issues of identity and ability biases through an understanding that spatial elements can be described through their sensory involvement. I have describe those stimulants as follows:

Hypo-Stimulant - Factors that work to soften the
programmatic and natural stimulants around us.

Hyper-Stimulant - Elements that work to create intensified moments within our environment.

Motor-Stimulant - Components that
heighten our awareness of body in space. 


Our environments are complex responders to its users and will influence an array of sensory outputs. I have chosen to highlight some of these.


ⓘ This animation begins to highlight sensory engagement through the five programs.
1. Massing Mediator upon Entry 

Upon entry one is nestled between massing walls that stretch and shift through the Logan landscape. The adjacent activities within the gymnasium and playground echo through the massing walls. These sensory mediators act as visual cues which communicate changes in program while also emphasizing the paths that run
perpendicular to it. Through layers of parallel paths and spaces we are encouraged to explore our relationships with space and
occupancy as we discover opportunities to engage with the different textures, sounds and even the smells of our place. 

Grounding our engagement of space through issues of play and seeking opportunities of engagement the cross-section reveals a variety of relationships between people, their landscape, curated space, and pathways that act as critical factors in the shaping of the sensorial experience. 




2. Learning through Mobility

We weave through secondary pathways and beneath the soft canopy we were greeted with upon entry. Given the changes in elevation needed in response to the context, split pathways invite people to engage with space at different grades. We are visually connected to our context through stretching windows. To some, the natural lighting and dynamic landscape can prove uncomfortable or distracting. Through the meshed canopy, and viewports within the sensory wall we can engage with adjacent spaces that mediate certain intensities. 

This sensory buffer acts against the traditionally static definition of a wall. While it mediates the senses, it is also able to integrate sensory activities to heighten our
experience through isolated moments and continuous encouragement to play our way through space. 

Opposite to the natural landscape, we are able to visually and physically interact with a sensory focused garden. Engagement is possible smell, sound, touch and even taste!







3. Cues of Access

Through the continuation of building elements we have found ourselves within a space that provides more traditional sensory care opportunities. The mediating path is paralleled across the waiting space by rooms dedicated to providing formal therapy opportunities. All faces of the space speak towards where a person has come from, and where they could continue going through material continuation. An embrace of the buildings ability to activate and engage with the continuing landscape is demonstrated just outside. 

Spatial decisions continue to play multiple roles in discussion to different types of
sensitivity.




4. Shared Living Expereince 

Using similar principles, the home can transform to be more sensory sensitive while addressing longer, and more consistent forms of occupancy. Programs like the kitchen and bedroom invite a variety of different stimulants, while giving the opportunity for more individualized and long term sensory care. 

Consider these familiar environments as opportunities to explore ones sensory demands in new ways. The kitchen is crafted with an understanding of more traditional forms of access, while also working to ensure different opportunities to engage with cooking, and eating. Through soft edges, contrasting planes, and parallel halls we can accentuate elements while also mediating to create individualized sensory spaces for each person.




5. Opportunities in Common Space

Single families navigate there homes through a meandering-mediating pathway. Through softened corners, vignette windows, and clerestory lighting  we can have conversations about place and movement.

Traditionally auxiliary spaces, like the bathroom, can be treated in a way to continue mediating external inputs. Through different counter heights, and lighting sources we can encourage physical and visual access to things like water-play to cater towards more stimulating demands. Natural schemes can be leveraged when creating spaces for sleep, play, eating, learning and relaxation.






ⓘ The  video incorporates sound. Put on your favorite pair of headphones to listen to how the sensory wall changes with its occupants!

The Senses in Space

We understand space thanks to our seven senses, but we often design in a way that is overly reliant on the static visual moment. Our body exists as a large sensory processor that changes as we turn our head, take a deep breath and wander. Sensory experience is impacted in all directions at any moment. As designers we should begin challenging ourselves to think about how people interact with one another, the built and the natural environment over time. Designers can support the diversity and complexity of the human condition through the addressing of multiple senses.

Sensory design is inclusive and aware that each person’s sensory abilities change over the course of a lifetime. This is an acknowledgment of the living qualities of the built world and an understanding that rooms are much more complex than a six-planed box with windows and doors letting you through. I propose looking at these rooms as complex components that are packaged with sensory implications along a mediating spine that curves, bends, opens and converses with the people around it. The building is something that can tickle, pinch, and comfort us as we navigate its walls in exploring our own sensory identity. As we touch the building, it touches back. Mismatched interactions are likely, but through a diversity of ways to engage with programmatic experience we craft spaces that bring complimentary sensititivities together.