Designing For The Mentally Differently Abled.

Do our structures acknowledge the intellectually handicapped? Have you ever wondered why is there such a stigma for the mentally ill? Would they be accepted in our society if our buildings were designed to keep them in mind?

Psychological illness is a pattern of thought or behavior that is outside the expected norms and impairs an individual’s ability to function in ordinary life in some way.

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A mentally disabled person lacks the skills to carry out the day to day activities required, without the assistance of another person. Trouble in understanding essential guidelines or exercises prevents them from accomplishing their latent capacity and exacerbating their condition. These people are either hidden from the public eye or sent away to secluded facilities.

As an architecture student, I can contribute by increasing awareness of what design aspects make a difference for people with mental illness and what we can do to make them feel accepted in their urban surroundings.

Design Considerations

  • A stimulating environment: Stimulation is the amount of information in a setting that affects the human user. Lack of stimulation leads to boredom and a weak connection to space, whereas high levels of stimulation create complex scenes that overload the senses and lead to distraction and confusion. Users function best under moderate levels of stimulation with regard to colors, light, noise, and patterns.
  • A legible space: Because the organization of spaces can sometimes be confusing. Spaces need to be clear and legible. In general simplifying design is key to avoiding disorientation and confusion, Rapid changes in visual access, i.e corners and being unable to see to what’s behind, makes them bewildered. Elimination of ‘dead ends’ and recesses improves observation, security, and safety while expanding the
    reach of natural light, opening outdoor views.
  • Navigational Aids: Simple building layout, with clear signage and travel paths at regular intervals, helps users finding their own way without any help. Plants, clocks provide information as a part of daily activities and allow for orientation of time. Positive elements like fountains, trees help reduce stress and serve as landmarks for finding their way. Unclustered Maps with ‘ YOU ARE HERE’ should be provided.
  • Control: Users should feel a sense of control over their surroundings and need to be able to interact and alter it according to their needs. By creating a hierarchy in the sizes and layouts of the spaces, distinguishing the role and purpose of each space becomes easier for the mentally disabled to understand. A sense of control with respect to physical surroundings, access to social support and access to positive distractions, with the aim to reduce and relieve stress from the environment
  • Quality of space:  Comfortable furniture, soothing colors, home-like ambiance and interaction with nature brings comfort in the space. For activities that require attention, distracting elements should be limited.

Color Psychology

The colors of the building play a very vital role in how one perceives the structure.

The psychological effect of warm colors, such as red, orange, and yellow give warm psychological, exhilarating, exciting, and stimulating effect.

Cool colors, which are green and blue give calming psychological effects, peaceful, while purple brings depressing effects.

While the white gives the effect of a clean, open and bright, black it gives the effect of a heavy, formal, and unpleasant feeling.

Södra Älvsborg–Psychiatric Clinic

The building is oriented to take in maximum daylight, the courtyard offers sensory experiences and invites activities and social interaction. Rooms and corridors overlook the surrounding parkland and forest, creating a sense of freedom. 

Designing for all doesn’t only benefit the ones in need, but also enhance the mental health of a normal person. As 10.7% of the population experiences a psychological issue, a little commitment by us can have an incredible effect in the general public.

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