First stop, America!
America… back to where it all began for my Fellowship and exploring Autism-friendly building design in the flesh. This takes me back a few countries and about a month in time!
The Friday I had been waiting for had finally come, and it was two years after knowing I wanted to apply, one month shy of being a year since I actually did apply that I finally got to get in that big jet plane to head off to the States.
During my time there, I got to meet with three incredible people doing three very different things that all fall within the Autism-friendly industry. Those people were Denise Resnik, Debra Caudy and Christopher Henry. Both Denise, of First Place Arizona, and Debra, of 29 Acres, are the driving forces behind two non-profit organisations inspired by the desire to see appropriate housing and facilities built for their sons, both of whom are on the spectrum. Christopher is the founder of Autism Design Consultants, is a contributor to ArchDaily, an architectural researcher, writer and medical doctor. With a long history of association with Autism, he’s a very keen advocate for suitable Autism-friendly Architecture. Interestingly, Christopher is concerned with the ability to scientifically provide proof of what works and what doesn’t work in relation to designing to architecture. This was a theme that would be a point of discussion as my fellowship went on. More on that on another day.
While First Place and 29 Acres are quite different in their approach of architectural style, both projects are building to meet the safety requirements, sensory needs and ongoing support for their residents. For example, First Place Arizona is a multi-storey building in Midtown Phoenix and is, therefore, urbaner than the other, which will be situated in a semi-rural setting on acreage (29 to be exact). As a result of the location of both organisations, the needs, requirements and focus areas of community living there is also differs.
We spoke at length on funding models, the current and foreseeable challenges and their rationale behind the choices the organisations made for the housing projects. Both communities will contain educational units for the transition of residents to other housing models and independence in other accommodation or continue with independence and assisted living in the projects.
I had the honour of being included on a site visit of First Place while under construction to see the project first-hand and to hear about the initiatives being incorporated into the building. If all continues to go well, First Place is just over a month away from being completed. 29 Acres have just had their construction drawings finalised and are excited to begin the search for a builder. Construction should start on stage one of the project in June. So very exciting times for both these organisations and I look forward to hearing all their news as the projects continue.
In Virginia, I had a very in-depth conversation with Christopher about the ability to prove what works and what doesn’t in the designs being produced by Architects and Designers. We spoke for hours, so trying to impart even a portion of the conversation here is quite impossible. It was a conversation that sparked further discussion throughout Denmark and The Netherlands, as I’m sure it will as I move on to the UK and France. It is something that I had often pondered for some time now when I began my research in Australia. The field of Architecture traditionally has not tried to scientifically prove the effectiveness of its designs. There are so many factors involved … is this something that is even possible? In this instance and for this special group of our community, it would certainly be game changing if we could.
That’s all about America for now, but keep an eye out for even more to come!