What Designing for Children of all Abilities Teaches Us 1

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Tuesday, March 24th, 2015
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The rapidly changing innovations within the design sector present new possibilities for designers and builders, but according to lead playground designer Tobias Volbert, these innovations fail to provide inclusive, sensory focused spaces.

In his upcoming talk at DesignBUILD Expo, Volbert, a landscape architect and business development manager for Playscape Creations, will introduce the 7 Senses approach to design.

The 7 Senses Foundation was co-founded by Volbert in a bid to improve built environment design so that it cultivates a sense of play and community. Each space is designed to engage and enhance the seven human senses, providing opportunities for participation for people of all ages and abilities.

Beyond the five basic senses of sight, taste, hearing, smell and touch, the 7 Senses Foundation advocates for built environment design to also consider the vestibular and the proprioceptive senses. These last two senses relate to the sense of balance and sense of body placement, respectively, and are often impaired for persons experiencing neurological and mental health disability.

Volbert, based out of Brisbane, has been an advocate for sensory focused design for many years through his role as a leading all-abilities playground designer. His understanding of sensory design innovation for children has now been extended to civic spaces.

In his talk, he will discuss how design innovations for children can be readily translated into more general built environment design and how the known health benefits of all-abilities playgrounds should be inspire change for all designers.

“I believe the built environment is still driven by architecture and form,” he said. “In 20 years of architecture, we have a lost a lot of our human direction and the sensory opportunity in the built environment.”

Volbert’s timing is crucial as Australia’s population is projected to increase by 15 per cent by 2030.  The ageing population and increase in neurological and mental health disabilities means the rate of disability in Australia will rise, creating serious implications for disability management and design of all public space.

“There is consensus amongst all disability organisations that the rates of disability will increase at exponential rates over the next 20 years,” Volbert said. “[The] built environment will need to change if we want truly inclusive communities in the future.”

Volbert will encourage the audience to explore design elements that serve everyone from the backyard to urban community spaces.

His work at Playscape has seen him contribute to a host of all-abilities playgrounds including a recent project at Brisbane’s City Botanic Gardens where a range of play innovations were used to offer a variety of interactions, sensory stimulation and inclusive play opportunities.

The notion of sensory design that moves beyond considering just accessibility is gaining momentum as an opportunity to update urban and suburban communities and develop what Volbert describes as the human corridors.

“People with a sensory disability can feel overwhelmed and may even consider an overcrowded bus stop as an unsafe place. Such barriers are known to prevent people from seeking health care and compound the issues at hand,” he said.

Volbert will refer to the landscape and urban design of exemplary all-abilities playgrounds to highlight the cost effective, achievable design elements that could be transferred to spaces as vital as bus stops.

“I will show people how to utilise simple items, upcycle what they already have and participate in making changes that contribute to inclusive communities,” he said.

“Accessibility is a significant barrier to a community engagement. Playgrounds have successfully become community hubs for all ages, all abilities to engage and improve their well being. If we take play ground design philosophy and 7 Senses approach we will improve the accessibility and liveability of our public spaces and the change in health demographics.”

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  1. Brett Thompson

    I can imagine this is one area of design which may be overlooked but is essential in all forms of design as those who suffer from mental disorders have to interact with the everyday environment just as mainstream people do.

    If we really are to improve accessibility to cater for all forms of disability and disorder, then it does not imperative that we take some of the lessons learned from this playground environment and see what we can apply throughout the overall design landscape.