Public Space Designed for Neurodiversity

Photo: Meghan Marin / Courtesy of WIP Collaborative

At the corner of Hudson Street and King Street in Hudson Square, there is a new 80 foot long orange and red electrical structure straddling the sidewalk and the road. During my visit last Thursday afternoon, I saw a woman having lunch at one of the built-in tables and a couple having coffee on a bench behind one of the street trees built into the design. I immediately walked over to a hammock at the back and dropped into it. A nearby Con Ed employee approached me and told me he had wanted to sit in the hammock all day but was too nervous to do so. After he sat down next to me, he told me that if I had arrived a few hours earlier, I would have seen children swinging on the bars and climbing up and down the benches, which are covered with soft rubber. and rough Astroturf and double as a playground. Once we got up the couple asked how the hammock was (answer: surprisingly relaxing for something on the street!) before settling in. It’s an experience I didn’t expect to have in Hudson Square, an area I tend to think of as a slip road to the Holland Tunnel that is now trying to turn into a new business hub.

The idea behind the colorful structure, aptly named Restorative Ground, was to “create a varied ‘landscape of choice’,” says Bryony Roberts, member of WIP Collaborative, the group that conceived the project. “I hope there is something for everyone, at different times of the day, week or year. »This is the winning entry for Caring for Hudson Square, a competition that invited architects to make the streets of the neighborhood more dynamic, restorative and relaxing for families, workers and visitors when the city reopens. Restorative Ground also shows how Street seats, a program that the city currently has in its arsenal of creating places, could be improved by designing a space for neurodiversity. Away from the private streets that have sprung up everywhere over the past year, it exemplifies a type of inclusive and publicly accessible architecture that the city should develop further. As Roberts says, “How can streets support social uses and not just infrastructural uses? “

A few years ago a typical installation of public seats – tables, chairs and umbrellas on a platform surrounded by planters – stood on the same corner of King in Hudson. He came out of the DOT’s Street seats program, which helps ground-floor businesses install seats on streets and sidewalks. WIP Collaborative, a new practice comprised of women with backgrounds in architecture, landscape architecture, and fashion, has researched how to create more inclusive public spaces and believes updating programs that set design standards, such as Street Seats, could change their ideas. “In an overly standardized public domain, this generic public space is applied everywhere,” explains Lindsay Harkema, founder of WIP Collaborative. It certainly doesn’t work for everyone, and finding ways to give more variety to public space could make the city more enjoyable for more people. “What we found in our research by discussing with [autism] advocates and self-advocates is that you find yourself either in a very active, noisy and overwhelming public space – like a playground or Times Square – or in an empty plaza, which is under-stimulating ”, she says.

Restorative Ground takes a bigger picture of what a Street Seat can be: it’s a playground, a quiet refuge, a place to meet a friend, and a landscape to explore. As Harkema says, “the audience is diverse and the public domain should provide these experiences.”

Restorative Ground is a 24-foot by 80-foot public facility that its designers, WIP Collaborative, call a “Landscape of Choice.” The 2,100 square foot space includes areas intended for more active use and others intended to be a little quieter; he was informed by the company’s research into neurodiversity and how the built environment can better meet the needs of the public by adapting to a wider range of uses.

To make Restorative Ground inviting a wide range of New Yorkers, WIP Collaborative conducted research and interviews with disability activists, autism advocates, women, adolescents and children to create an inclusive design that takes take into account sensory needs, physical abilities and age. WIP also engaged with the Hudson Square community – including residents and the Children’s Museum of the Arts around the corner – to find out what they wanted.

The structure has a mix of materials, textures and heights that allow people to use the space as they please. It is also divided into zones for targeted, energetic or soothing uses. “We are interested in this issue of sensory sensitivity, which is not well addressed in the design of public spaces,” says Roberts, referring to sound, touch and activity.

WIP Collaborative designed the easternmost part of the structure (near the intersection of King and Hudson streets) as an area for “focused” activities such as eating a meal, having a conversation or having a meeting. To support these uses, there are two large tables with built-in stools. The structure is at sidewalk level, and there is room for one person using a wheelchair to sit comfortably at the tables.

The center of the structure is nicknamed Playscape Peak. It has a mix of high and low benches that double as hills for children to climb and descend as well as bars to hold onto.

The westernmost section is more of a low stimulation area for quieter activities like reading or lazing around. This is where WIP incorporated the hammock, which is woven from smooth rope.

Since this section of the block included two street trees, WIP worked with the parks department to ensure that the structure allowed sufficient air and water flow to the tree pits. A wire mesh, which hugs the trunks, did the trick. The initial budget for the construction was $ 100,000, funded by Hines, the real estate development company that owns the buildings on the same block as the structure.

WIP hopes that the concepts explored in the structure, such as spaces of concentration, activity and calm, could spread throughout the city by incorporating these attributes into the design standards of public spaces. “We’re interested in how it becomes co-created with a particular neighborhood or community,” says Harkema. “If we had the option to do it elsewhere, it wouldn’t be the same size or configuration, but there would be similar ideas to test. ”

Pictures Courtesy of WIP Collaborative

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button