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President’s Medal 2023, Silver: Nobody Wants to Live in a Care Home

Words:
Pamela Buxton

Ellie Harding of London School of Architecture finds a way for people living with Alzheimer’s disease to stay close to their families while prolonging their independence

A single circulation route through the housing development has recognisable ‘yards’ to aid navigation.
A single circulation route through the housing development has recognisable ‘yards’ to aid navigation. Credit: Ellie Harding

Ellie Harding 
Nobody Wants to Live in a Care Home 

London School of Architecture
Tutors: Fabrizio Matillana, Kit Sitby-Harris

There has to be a better way to approach it,’ says Ellie Harding of the accommodation options available for people living with Alzheimer’s disease, especially those with early onset-Alzheimer’s.

Her Silver medal-winning project presents an alternative to those either struggling with an ill-suited home, or living in a care home isolated from friends and family.  This innovative concept enables people living with Alzheimer’s disease to remain living with their families in a development at the heart of the community, and in doing so, prolong their independence. 

‘Alzheimer’s disease cannot be cured by architecture, but the quality of spaces, their layout, forms, materials and locations can have a huge impact on the severity of symptoms and consequent distress. Crucially, spatial perception has been shown to be altered even in the very early stages of the disease,’ she says.

Harding was keen to go further than ‘tick-box’ designing for dementia guides. Instead, her design draws on research into the different way that people living with Alzheimer’s disease experience space. This is by egocentric perception based on what is experienced at a single moment, resulting in a greater reliance on lines of sight, materiality and colour for spatial navigation. This contrasts with the allocentric perception used by those without Alzheimer’s disease, in which egocentric perception is used to form a bird’s eye cognitive map of the space. 

Masterplan for the development, located next to Hornsey Town Hall in London’s Crouch End.
Masterplan for the development, located next to Hornsey Town Hall in London’s Crouch End. Credit: Ellie Harding

For the project, she used a cloud mapping photogrammetry technique to create egocentric maps of how people living with Alzheimer’s disease experience particular routes, and used these findings to inform the design and ameliorate the effects of the disease. 

Her site is in London’s Crouch End next to Hornsey Town Hall in the centre of the community – a sharp contrast to the edge-of-bypass locations common to many care homes. She proposes 29 housing units and two porters’ lodges grouped around a ‘landscape of yards’. In the homes the design is ‘route and visual access-based’ with the bathroom at its heart. The landscape has one clear route with distinctive areas to aid familiarity and navigation. Particular attention is paid to materials and the haptic qualities of elements such as door handles. A safe, porous boundary with passive controls at the porters’ lodges is designed to enable those with sufficient allocentric perception to come and go. 

She proposes that egocentric mapping could also be used more widely to ‘test’ designs before construction to ensure they are compatible for people living with Alzheimer’s disease.

See interviews with all the President Medal winners

  • The design embraces an egocentric spatial perception with clear views to the bathroom when waking up.
    The design embraces an egocentric spatial perception with clear views to the bathroom when waking up. Credit: Ellie Harding
  • The design embraces an egocentric spatial perception with clear views of the communal garden.
    The design embraces an egocentric spatial perception with clear views of the communal garden. Credit: Ellie Harding
12

RIBA Silver Commendations

Ammara Asdar
The Inbetween
Architectural Association
Tutors: Lawrence Barth, Lucy Styles 

Jacob Shaw & Kyle Stone (joint entry)
Tracing Thresholds: Landscape Production
University of Plymouth
Tutor: Robert Brown

Elliott Wang
The Grand Domestic
London School of Architecture
Tutors: Esther Escribano, Matthew Whittaker

RIBA Award for Sustainable Design at Part 2 
Shan Wei Chew
The Udaipur Plastic School
University of Bath
Tutor: Alexander Wright

RIBA Serjeant Award for Excellence in Architectural Drawing at Part 2
Chloe Dalby
Earth’s Breath: Wind and Wild 
Newcastle University
Tutor: Prudence Chiles

RIBA Serjeant Award for Excellence in Architectural Drawing at Part 2 Commendation
Zibo Zhang

Folgelandschaft 
Royal College of Art
Tutors: James Kwang Ho Chung, John Ng, 
Zsuzsa Péter

2023 RIBA Silver Medal judging panel

Mina Hasman (chair) Sustainability director & climate advocacy lead at SOM, UK
Shawn Adams Architect, writer, and lecturer; co-founder of the POor Collective, UK
Nana Biamah-Ofosu Architect, researcher, and writer; director at YAA Projects; lecturer in architecture at Kingston University, UK
David Hills Founding director at DSDHA, UK
Helen Iball Reader and departmental education lead at the Manchester School of Architecture, UK
Albert Williamson-Taylor Co-founder and principal design director of AKT II; engineering tutor at the Architectural Association, UK

 

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