A prefabricated and deployable stress-relief, interactive prototype for the neurodiverse
Conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and others can affect how people process sensory information, limiting accessibility to the built environment, and obstructing -both practically and
psychologically- their participation in daily objectives, as learners, workers, patients, parents or in other
life roles. Environments designed to support neurodiversity can help. The proposed work unites a group
of clinicians, designers, architects, and neurodiverse individuals in collectively creating and evaluating an
experimental spatial prototype with adaptive features via the use of informational technologies.
Soft entails the conceptualization of an interior room best suited for a behavioral health hospital but will also be tested for use in other hospitals. The resulting design proposal could be deployed in a small (approx. 12’ x 12’ in its interior dimensions) and contained (with only one entrance door) hospital room without natural light/views/ventilation. The proposed space could contemplate any function that would benefit from a stress-relief design strategy through careful consideration of the sensory needs of its users (fundamentally people with neurodiversities, although research suggests that approximately 40% of the population has some type of sensory sensibility and therefore will benefit from the outcomes of this proposal as well). As examples, these programs might include cool-down rooms, lockdown rooms, sensory rooms, consulting rooms, resting/reflection rooms, detachment rooms, etc. The occupancy of these spaces is ideally set to one person, but it could house up to two persons for a one on one therapy session, reception meeting, consultation, etc.
The project is measured by three principal design operations:
1. The implementation of a geometric composition, material finishes, and detailing that follow a
research-based logic based on design principles such as color, light, texture, materiality,
morphological attributes, etc.
2. The introduction of soft interior architecture as a driver of the principles mentioned above . We
think of soft architecture as a place in which structure is defined by memory. The lines dividing
interior and exterior are diffused, creating an uncanny relationship between organic forms and
manufactured materials. We associate soft architecture also with material characteristics - yielding
readily to touch or pressure; deficient in hardness; smooth; pliable, malleable, or plastic.
3. The inclusion of interactive design components that regulate the environment via sensory inputs.
In more detail, the interior design system is made of three parts:
1. The Textured Dome.
This component covers the entirety of the space with a dome-like shape. Instead of being organized
vertically and horizontally using walls and ceilings as is done in any standard building construction,
the dome aims to unite both walls and ceilings in one single system. The textured dome investigates
the capacity for certain textures to mitigate anxiety and comfort the body.The material finish in the
interior of the dome is made of parametrically generated upholstery from fabric (easy to clean and
well suited for covid concerns) including slight tone variations within light color palette options. The
dome structure holding the textile in place is made of a fire-retardant-treated plywood sheathing
that is cut in a puzzle shape pattern to conform to the shape of the dome. These plywood pieces
connect directly to the partition structure (metal or wood). Each plywood piece of the puzzle
receives a modular upholstery finish and serves as a “sandwiched” prefabricated component that
can be transported easily into any site for quick installation.
2. The Interactive Gateway.
This component takes advantage of the door position to generate a colorful protrusion niche with a
light and sound interactive component added to it.
3. The Memory Scape.
Another niche added to the dome connects as an inhabitable void; a round shape oculus at the top
of the dome and a curved chaiselong-shaped seating/laying area to the side of the dome. The color
of this niche contrasts that of the dome’s and serves as a detachment space from and within the rest
of the room. This element also includes an interactive system that features a light/sound art
installation and aims to connect the body with its effects in a choreographic manner.
The construction of the Soft prototype refers to the second phase of a larger 4-phased process broken down as follows:
Phase 1 (Concluded): Research and prototype design iterations. The prototype will serve as a testing
ground for a calm down room, meditative space with dynamic interactive design features, targeting the
neurodiverse population and people with mental health problems.
Phase 2: Prototype construction in our lab space with the continuous, active feedback and participation of experts and patients throughout its construction via questionnaires, interviews, and site visits.
Phase 3: Post examination of the prototype with the support of experts and patients and via the use of technology that can measure people's spatial experience ( EEG scans, pulse readings, tracking devices, etc.)
Phase 4: Iterative adjustments based on feedback and deployment of final product to an actual site
The project is currently in progress. It has been awarded the Completion Grant for the 2021-2022 cycle from the office of Applied Research at Thomas Jefferson University.