Landscape Designs for a Center for Young Adults Living With Autism

Published by David Keegan 6 years ago

Landscape Designs For A Center For Independent Living For Young Adults With Autism For Oldham Council

Like many I am sure, I had not really thought about, or considered, the difficulties involved when living with a condition that I myself have no direct experience of. However, when asked late last year if I would be interested in designing the landscape for a proposed new development for Oldham Council that would provide independent, as well as assisted living, for young adults living with Autism I immediately said yes, seeing it as an invaluable opportunity to explore new disciplines and areas of landscape design whilst working on a worthwhile and exciting project.

Part of what initially appealed to me about this project was the opportunity to learn and research a new set of requirements for the grounds and gardens of the proposed center. What became clear quite early on was, not only the very different design criteria required to that of domestic gardens, but also the difficulty in finding any existing examples of similar projects in the UK, or elsewhere. One study however that became an essential resource for my research was carried out for a similar proposal for a center that was to be created for The Kingswood Trust in Wolverhampton. Upon inquiring it seems the gardens and the center unfortunately never saw the light of day. Still, I am forever indebted to the research carried out by Katie Gaudion and Chris McGinley and the invaluable book they wrote, without which my task would have proved a lot more difficult. The only other research I could find were some studies carried out in the USA but these were quite limited in terms of  usefulness as they focused primarily on young children with Autism. That said, it later transpired that many behavioural traits and specific needs of children with Autism were carried through into adulthood.

In setting out to design the scheme I divided the site into a number of zones, each with a specific theme focused on fulfilling a set criteria. In doing this it was also important that the location of a zone be determined by its function and purpose, as Autism effects different people in very different ways. Due to this the main access points to the garden needed to be open with all features clearly visible, easily navigated and understood from all points of entry. Although the different zones will be segregated from each other this is to be achieved by means of low level hazel hurdle fencing, allowing the garden user to view all areas, thereby reducing any sense of fear or threat of  a potential unknown. Zones 1 and 2, forming the largest open space, include designs for a water feature immediately adjacent to what will be a covered pergola, also accessed by a perimeter path. The perimeter path  provides a number of passing points for wheelchair users.  3 circular spaces set into the lawn provide unobtrusive and interactive elements, the first consisting of a soft rubberised base, followed by a scented mounded dome with inset seating and planted with a variety of herbs and finally a large round swing. As well as a central stepping stone path connecting the 3 interactive areas these feature areas can also be easily accessed via the perimeter path. Planting for each area is carefully chosen so as not to overwhelm the senses with either too much colour, or scent, but instead is done in blocks based on species and characteristic of form, colour, texture and scent, if any. Zone 3 will be a secret garden with a planned Willow Cathedral. Planting to this area will feature a variety of grasses that move and sway in the breeze, with the cathedral providing the perfect environment for those seeking some valuable alone time. A conservatory, garden store sheds and potting benches are planned to the area adjoining Zone 2 and 5 whilst Zone 4 is dedicated to providing a get out area, screened by low level hurdle curving fences, the space  is a pared back area providing little more than a tree seat, allowing for a calm retreat. This space is easily accessed from Zones 2 and 5. Zone 5 provides practical gardening areas by means of raised beds where residents can grow a range of vegetables and other ornamental plants. A line of fruit trees will soften the end wall of the center. Zone 6 will provide a shade garden and is to be planted with a variety of fruit trees, with further seating for those looking for a break from garden activities. Zone 7 is planned as a quite garden space for staff at the center to take a break, weather permitting. Zone 8 provides uncomplicated garden spaces for the independent living units, each planted with a low level boundary hedge for privacy, as well as Acers for colour and interest, for both the public street-scape and residents.

During the process of designing this project I happened to hear a program on BBC radio that made it all too clear why centers like this are so desperately needed. Due to a lack of facilities for young adults with autism many end up in totally inappropriate centers not set up, or designed, to cater for their very specific requirements. Many are also detained in these places far away from home and held under the mental health act, meaning neither they, nor their families, have much control over either their environment, or freedoms. The value of places like the proposed Limecroft center in Oldham cannot be overstated as it will be primarily focused on housing adults local to the community, therefore closer to home and family, but also  in doing so saving the council large amounts of money in the long run. In consequence I cannot understand why centers like this are not being created across the country.


This project also gave me the opportunity to work with a wonderful, caring and passionate architect, Harry Randhawa (Triangle Architects) whose input and suggestions were always considered and focused solely on the needs of the clients who will eventually live in the center. Special thanks to Julia Walsh  (Sail North Consulting) for introducing me to the project and the team in the first instance.End 

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