classroom with open shelving and textural features and accessible musical instruments.

A Creative Space Rethinks the Link Between Art and Social Care

Sense Space, a community center for people with complex disabilities in the U.K., embraces tactile, inclusive design.

Birmingham, U.K.–based design studio Dual Works has completed a new creative space for people with complex disabilities, including deaf-blindness, in a project that rethinks “the interface between arts and social care.”

Designer-makers Zoe Robertson and Steve Snell have created flexible storage systems, flip-up desks, and a mobile art cart for a community center in Birmingham, U.K., called Sense TouchBase Pears. In the process, the pair has had to learn how people with multiple impairments use their senses to communicate and understand their world.

The project, which opened in late 2021, embraces tactility and inclusive design. Large braille panels with contrasting colors create sensory spaces that are both aesthetic and functional, with orange used to reference the branding identity of the client, the nonprofit organization Sense.

The designers were inspired by how users of the art studios read stories to one another through objects and materials kept in story bags. “We’ve never been comfortable with anything that is kept behind glass,” says Snell. “We’re interested in things you can touch and experience. We wanted to create openness, beauty, and design quality.”

hand reaching for guitar hung from pegboard
Design studio Dual Works used birch plywood to give furnishings a calming tone, while ample use of pegboards allows users to curate the space, displaying equipment such as musical instruments and SUBPACs, which generate sound and vibration.

Robertson adds: “Social care settings can be very stark and clinical and don’t actually function for the groups that use them. Our client wanted to change that and bring warmth to the space.”

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Aspects of the Dual Works design will now be adopted in other Sense arts buildings across the U.K. According to Stephanie Tyrrell, the Sense group’s head of arts, these spaces will ensure “people with complex disabilities are creative leaders, now and in the future.” 

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