In a series exploring the work produced by our in-house students, this is an extract from  “The influence of architecture on the learning environment in education for children with visual impairment”, a dissertation by Joelle Bolt. Joelle is currently studying for her Part 2 at Birmingham School of Architecture.

I have the feeling that architecture is becoming more and more about visual aesthetics and creating products or pieces rather than buildings that can be experienced through senses other than sight. The bias towards vision is a risk to architecture as it suppresses the other senses which are important in perceiving space with the whole body.

Through investigating the influence of architecture on the learning environment in education for those who are visually impaired, this research attempts to shift the architectural focus from vision to a more holistic and inclusive design approach, that can have a positive effect on a pupil’s learning environment. This process raises several questions, such as: To what extent is architecture visual? And: What is left of architecture when the looks are taken away?

In the early nineties, the government expressed a desire to include children with disabilities into mainstream education. Schools were reluctant to welcome pupils who cannot see or can partially see. This research explores architectural and spatial requirements that can be taken into account when designing or refurbishing learning environments that suit students with visual impairment.

In general, specialist schools have similar requirements to mainstream schools. Schools have to find a balance between perfection and risk, safety and challenge, whilst providing stimulating learning environments in which pupils are encouraged to make adjustments and learn how to solve problems. However, consistency and repetition in the spatial arrangement of a building is perhaps more important in a building where visually impaired pupils are being taught. It provides comfort and security as the child does not have to re-learn every room any time he or she enters it.

The use of internal and external tactile materials, textures and elements, as well as the use of colour coding and contrasting colours can be implemented to aid their needs. An example is given on the image below (taken in Hazelwood School, Glasgow, designed by gm+ad architects), where storage provision in the corridor provides tactile information to the students as he or she walks through the building. It helps their sense of independence and navigation.


It was this image that inspired me to consider design from a non-visual perspective. The research has opened up my eyes to the unseen beauty in architecture and it has given me a new appreciation for natural and tactile materials. I hope it encourages other people to not just design buildings that look good, but also feel good and sound good.

You can meet Joelle over on the team page.