Earlier this year I attended the DSDC Stirling University Intersection of Dementia + Design Training at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) offices in London. As an Associate Architect in a practice that specialises in housing with care it was something I had been aware of for some time. We regularly use Stirling Guidance in the office and have even undertaken in house research on dementia friendly environments, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to test my knowledge.
I was initially impressed by the different disciplines of my fellow participants, the group included a few architects like myself but also interior and product designers, an occupational therapist, signage specialists and academics. Another early message that resonated with me was the lack of evidence based design for dementia; there are a lot of myths around how to create dementia friendly environments which result in spaces that are confusing and difficult to navigate.
Many of the design principles explained by Lesley Palmer (Chief Architect at DSDC) were ones that we employ in our practice, but what was new to me was the detailed explanation of why these principles exist and the effects dementia can have on the way people experience space. We learned about how dementia is am umbrella term for a spectrum of different diseases all with different symptoms. The language used to explain was accessible and challenged the stigma associated to people living with dementia.
There was a good balance of talks and activities on both days, we produced dementia friendly colour schemes, redesigned the RIBA terrace to be more inclusive and accessible for people with dementia and also got to trial the IRIDIS application which enabled us to use this digital tool to evaluate the public spaces at RIBA.
At Archadia I lead our research and development, ensuring that our staff our up to date on regulations and guidance in the specialist housing sector. I wanted to share this learning with the team so at our annual practice day ran a session using some of the material from DSDC, particularly focussing on how dementia can change the way people understand buildings. We interrogated some of the design principles and looked at some of our completed projects and where certain features have been deployed such as clear signage, layouts and colour schemes that support dementia friendly environments.
In the afternoon we had a couple of site visits planned, the first to a public art gallery and the second to an innovative new older person’s scheme in London. The Archadia team downloaded the IRIDIS app and tested this at both locations. It was quite an eye opening experience and made the group reflect on the difficulties people face in accessing public space, and even how new build specialist housing does not always follow best practice when it comes to dementia.
Back in practice I feel the course has given me more confidence to challenge design decisions that could have a negative impact on residents with dementia. Archadia work on projects for people with a variety of different needs, we seek to create inclusive environments that enable people to live with dignity. Dementia design principles should be considered in all projects, particularly as we have an ageing population. As architects we should seek to design spaces that can be accessed by all and I hope this will be reflected better in legislation as we move to support our ageing population.
~ Sophie Morley, Associate Architect, Archadia
The next Intersection of Dementia + Design training course is running on 8 + 9 November 2018.