Multi-Sensory Design – Building for Dementia
Multi-Sensory Design has been emerging increasingly in the past decade as a guiding motif for broadening the approach to building and product design. The earlier development of Inclusive design raised the awareness of the needs of those with different physical and cognitive abilities in accessing and using buildings and public space. How can we now take on the challenges facing those with the declining cognitive skills of aging with dementia and make our environment more supportive and inclusive for us all? In his recent book Building for Dementia Christoph Mertzger discusses the important role buildings can have in positively stimulating the senses to alleviate the stress for people who have dementia and help maintain life quality. He also recommends that ‘particular attention should be paid to the issue of how far the strictly functional forms and…high density of 20th century housing have a negative impact on people as a result of the failure … to appeal to the senses’.
One of the big issues we are confronted with in dealing with new design problems is how to establish a system of metrics to allow us to inform new standards and guidelines that we can design with. So far, we only have a few examples of multi-sensory buildings that are designed to address all senses. We are also hampered by the dominance of the visual in our daily lives and the prioritising of the ‘look’ to determine the value and success of an object or building. Designs from the past that have considered other sensory realms have passed us by unnoticed. The increase in noise levels from various machine sources as well as the haphazard creation of reverberant spaces in cities adds to a sense of disorientation and hyper activity (see our previous blog on sound)
We all experience buildings with all of our senses. As we age the disorientation we feel by the declining ability to enjoy and make sense of our surroundings isolates and excludes us. We need to radically re-orientate our design approach to encompass this pressing issue that ultimately affects us all.