Prague’s Maximilian Hotel reopens following redesign by Conran and Partners
One of Prague’s most established boutique hotels, Maximilian, has reopened after a refurbishment programme by Conran and Partners.
The definition of ‘inclusion’ often focuses on removing physical barriers that make buildings and spaces accessible to as broad a range of people as possible. This is obviously vital to boosting diversity and creating spaces that are fair, but surely we also need to ensure that our buildings are sensitive to mental health and neurodiversity issues as well as other hidden disabilities.
However, in practical terms, how do we achieve this? Helen Berresford, Head of ID:SR, has the answers.
The first step to tackling this issue is to be conscious of it. I have no doubt that, as the wellness agenda continues to get traction and mental health campaigns gain further prominence, built environment professionals will be expected to understand how the design of spaces can promote healthy minds as well as bodies.
Many people find the modern workplace a challenging environment: the bustle and activity of open floorplates – whilst great for fostering collaboration – can be a significant hindrance to those suffering with autism as well as other neurological and mental health conditions. In some instances, these conditions make it virtually impossible to work in a conventional office environment. It is the job of forward-thinking designers and occupiers to redefine the definition of inclusivity, broadening its scope whilst not impacting the vitality of the interior designs.
As designers who work across corporate offices as well as spaces for learning and broadcasting, we are now seeing a shift in expectations, with project teams asking: how can we promote good mental health? And is it still possible to remain sensitive to neurodiversity issues without creating vanilla spaces? Colour, pattern and energy are key parts of a designer’s toolkit but they have to be applied in a way that is mindful of how a greater range of people experience spaces.
We have started to work with neurodiversity experts from the start of a project, which shapes how we approach the design of spaces. This started by putting ourselves in the shoes of others; we used virtual reality headsets to replicate how people with different neurological conditions experience space. This bewildering and uncomfortable experience illustrates just how disruptive specific design features are to some and actively shaped the design of the internal spaces.
This heightened sensitivity to how different people see the world means that we have to carefully consider how colours are used, particularly contrasting tones that impact some people’s ability to concentrate. This feeds into a project’s graphics and wayfinding strategy, challenging us to think more creatively about not just colour but how maps and symbols are used. By having this invaluable user feedback, we can design spaces that promote good mental health whilst still being exciting spaces to use.
Many people find the modern workplace a challenging environment
When creating a variety of spaces, it is important to carefully consider lighting: non-flickering LED lamps and a drop in lighting levels, when compared to BCO standards, can evoke a more comfortable, domestic feel to the spaces, whilst dimmable lights within quiet booths can cater for personal preferences and disabilities.
When discussing workplaces, we talk about the team dynamics, underpinned by collaboration, sharing and interaction. But workplace designers also have a responsibility to the individual and how they interact with the spaces: if you take a prospective recruit with an anxiety or neurological-related condition, the often intensely social atmosphere of an office is likely to be overwhelming and make working in a conventional workplace not an option. However, imagine that same individual with an alternative way of experiencing the office, giving people a choice of how they move around the buildings, as well as quiet zones where people could work in total silence. The choice between open and close spaces – along with informed designed decisions – could unlock a huge amount of potential whilst, at the same time, making better spaces for everyone.
Workplace design has already acknowledged that one size does not fit all, with an increasing range of spaces that allow people to choose where and how they work creating a genuine choice between the bustle of open plan working and calmer spaces that people need to focus and decompress. Surely, with choice and variety already high on the agenda, this is an opportune moment to drive significant social change through the power of thoughtful and high-quality design, enabling a higher number of people with disabilities to thrive within an office environment.
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