Lawrence Ingram, who is currently studying at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK (RIBA Part One), entered the Architects for Health’s First Student Health Design Award (2007) with the following submission. For contact please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Prospect’ – A retreat for visually impaired Children, Warkworth, Northumberland
The brief’s title of ‘Hide’ introduced the intertwined concepts of providing a place for a specific user group/s and that of responding to a rural village location; (Warkworth, Northumberland)
Students were required to research and select a group of children who were disadvantaged in some way, and begin to explore how such disadvantages could be understood. The hide ultimately aimed to dissolve a condition altogether or reconcile it in order that the child and carers could emerge from their experiences having had an enjoyable stay and even with an improved standard of life.
The user group
I chose to concentrate on visually impaired children aged 4-8 who would visit the hide for approximately one week with their carers. My research highlighted that such a user would require an additional set of sensory experiences than the visual which is often the primary driver for Architects and designers. I discovered that rather than limit design scope, such a user allowed greater freedom in terms of design possibilities and helped to both select the site from a choice of six and relate to the character of the village and the wider realm.
From my extensive site analysis of the village and locality, several key factors emerged. Firstly the very rural nature of the village itself and the sheer wealth of sensory experiences offered by a secure, linear public footpath passing the chosen site connecting the north and south of the village (see site analysis sheet). After further research into the user group it emerged that the visually impaired are traditionally fearful of the outside rural environment due to its irregular topography. Thus children often miss out on all the experiences of being in a natural environment and at these impressionable ages.
Secondly the central location of the site within the village offered another opportunity to include a village hall or flexible space which could serve the community. This offered the possibility of including the visually impaired children and carers into the usual daily routine of village life suggesting an air of normality rather than one of exclusion for the visiting children.
The aim of the building therefore was to help children discover and enjoy the great outdoors through all the activities connected with gardening. In addition to the gardening activities a secure external sensory play zone would offer tactile scale models of the hide, the village of Warkworth and the various species of native flora and fauna surrounding the hide which would aid the children to build up a mental picture of their environment (see plans sheet).
The building itself is made up of two principle elements, the low level more protected spaces comprising the accommodation (which is physically built into the landscape), the allotment and play areas for the visiting children. The higher level projecting element serves the village community and is conspicuous by its Copper surface finish (see model photos on sections’ sheet) The linearity of the public element aims to acknowledge the historical strip garden plots or ‘burgages’ of the neighbouring properties. The transitional form of this element leans forward to address the aspect out across the river Coquet and the sea estuary beyond. This large principle space address the functions of a larger flexible space for the village community and for the interaction of the user group with other visiting children with various levels of sightedness with the hope of promoting networking and relationship formation.
Finally the provision of a farm shop and Café/Bistro provides a real outlet for the allotment produce which the children will have helped to grow and care for over their stay.
The Architects for Health
First Student Health Design Award
was sponsored by