Neurodiversity conscious spaces: how should the new British Standard change the way we design

This week marks Neurodiversity Celebration Week which “aims to bring about worldwide neurodiversity acceptance, equality and inclusion in schools and workplaces.” Here, Hilson Moran’s Sustainability Director, Marie Louise Schembri, reflects on how the industry has embraced neurodiversity within its approach to design and gives an explanation on the BSI’s PAS 6463: 2022 guidance on the subject published in October last year.


This time last year, I wrote a blog to mark Neurodiversity Celebration Week outlining my thoughts on whether the industry was designing and building for those estimated 30-40% of the population that are thought to be neurodiverse. 12 months on, as the anniversary of Neurodiversity Celebration Week comes around again, I have been reflecting on what built environment professionals should know about adopting the BSI’s PAS 6463: 2022 ‘Design for the mind: Neurodiversity and the built environment’ guidance.

This guide is a definite first for the sector and boldly treads new ground for inclusive design that extends far beyond physical access, acknowledging that many people experience and interact with the world around them in different ways. It covers all buildings and external spaces for public and commercial use and focuses on elements such as lighting, acoustics, finishes, layout, thermal comfort and odour. How much do we expect this to change the way we design today?

A considerable number of measures are not new to anyone who has recently been involved in Grade A workplace design and fit-out, public realm and placemaking. Many are already present in a new generation of buildings and interiors, driven by policy and market demand for environmental and wellness features and certification schemes, such as BREEAM and WELL.

For example:

  • Glare through windows and from reflective surfaces. We typically control glare around computer screens and because of health and safety around visibility. We now know it can particularly affect people with greater sensitivity to light, causing distress and sensory overload.
  • Careful attention to wayfinding. Particularly in terms of the contrast, colour and lighting used, the clarity of information and duplication of formats and the opportunity to preview information.
  • Wellness focused interiors. Looking at access to green space and biophilic design, improved daylight, lighting levels and air quality and the inclusion of semi-enclosed quiet zones and a variety of work environments. These are more the norm in new office fit outs rather than the exception.

Yet, other recommendations from the new guidance are unfamiliar, and it is these features of interior space that will become the differentiators of inclusive design. Stand out suggestions include:

  • The need for curved and chamfered surfaces, and recesses. For example, replacing angular and straight details to make the experience for persons with information processing difference more reassuring and calming.
  • Selecting entrance canopies with material that does not accentuate the sound of rain. And providing sufficient space and seating outside an entrance to give persons an opportunity to pause and reset before entering a building.
  • Avoiding contrasting ground surfaces and trim details in transitions. Bold and contrasting floor patterns and reflective surfaces can cause confusion and should be avoided.
  • Providing a kitchen counter at a distance from noisy appliances. Acoustic environments need to be varied to offer the users choice, including spaces that are not typically designed for focus and productivity.

In the near future these notable variants will be the tell-tale signs of an environment that puts people first, however they interact with their surroundings.

This is going to be a collective journey, one in which we share our applied experience and contribute to each iteration as the guidance evolves – the guide humbly admits that expertise is lacking, and our understanding of harmful environmental factors is still evolving. But we are heading in the right direction with the first step to acknowledge it and demand its application in design briefs and leasing heads of terms.

If you’re considering sitting on this new information for a while and waiting it out, think about the generation you’re designing for today. Inclusivity will be a stamp of approval for successful design. You may already be part of the way there with a wellness and agile working agenda and just a few cost-neutral or simple modifications could result in the higher value outcome and make your environment more sensory inclusive for all.

Image credit: Atelier Permain & RCKa Architects

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