Ottawa architects conceptualize Sponge House for child with cerebral palsy

1-Sponge-House-ABLE-SunroomIn anticipation of World Cerebral Palsy Day on October 7, World Cerebral Palsy Day organizers challenged architects and designers to conceptualize a bump-proof and bruise-free home for people living with cerebral palsy. A group of Ottawa architects—led by Sonia Zouari and Carolyn Andrews of CSV Architects, who teamed with interior designers Sam Milne and Ally Darling of HOK and Yomna Anani of Parkin Architects—rose to the challenge, creating the winning entry.

An inspirational six-year-old girl in Liverpool, England, created this concept. When asked to suggest an idea that could make her life easier, Sally Garster requested a Sponge House—a soft living space that would protect her from bumps and bruises.

Cerebral palsy is a physical disability that affects muscle movement and coordination. People with CP have unsteady movement and continually run the risk of injury due to falling.

“Most architects understand accessibility standards and can design for people in a wheelchair. It’s tougher to design for people who can move about but have unsteady balance and poor fine motor control,” said Robyn Cummins, World Cerebral Palsy Day manager. “We were delighted at the enthusiasm and effort that went into entries from all over the world.”

2-Sponge-House-ABLE-backyardZouari and Andrews titled their team’s entry A.B.L.E. – Access a Better Living Environment.

“The A.B.L.E. project submission is an ambitious redesign of an existing Canadian home responding to the competition brief through a range of media,” stated the World Cerebral Palsy jury. “The project appears well-researched, and considers a broad range of issues – environmental, cultural, and emotional – and uses these as points of departure for several features proposed in the home. In particular, the response to multiple sensory experiences in the design – from smell to sight – is noteworthy, and the tactile materiality of the proposal is playful but with a sense of realism.”

An in-depth analysis of cerebral palsy served as a crucial tool that guided the team through the design process. Zouari drew from her direct experience with her daughter, Marwa, who at three years of age is learning to crawl, stand and walk, despite struggling with symptoms closely resembling cerebral palsy. The team’s holistic, interactive and collaborative design approach involved parents, therapists and adults with CP.

SpongeHouse-FloorPlan-HOK20150929The A.B.L.E. team sought to avoid an institutional look and instead to create a safe, functional, ergonomic and beautiful space for a child or adult with cerebral palsy. They developed an idea to renovate a bungalow-style house and demonstrate how the team’s ideas were practical for a family. All four senses are engaged inside and outside of the home. Radiant floors, textured natural materials, programmable LED lighting, sound systems and scented plants stimulate the senses. The interior environment has soft edges and surfaces, spots of color for wayfinding and flexible furnishings. Building materials are inspired by the softness of a sponge while remaining natural, resilient and easy to maintain. They include squishy furniture, resilient flooring, wool felt upholstery, turf carpets and sheepskin rugs.

Interiors feature bump-free finishes, passive and assistive walking/standing elements, and accessible reach seating or standing options throughout the home. Sleek accessibility and smooth, rounded surfaces drove the concept for the kitchen, which features easy-access appliances and millwork. Designed for comfort, warmth and self-sufficiency, bedrooms have upholstered furniture, sliding doors and large organic shaped light fixtures. The bathroom was expanded for wheelchair access with fixtures such as a recessed wall-hung toilet, walk-in bathtub and a no-curb, walk-in shower. Floor-to-ceiling glass in the sunroom invites the outdoors inside. With easy access to the backyard, residents can enjoy the grass, trees and raised herb garden. Tire garden stools provide bump-free seating and eliminate unnecessary bending while gardening.

Team A.B.L.E. will donate the prize money to help implement some of the winning ideas with local disability support organizations. Team members included:

  • Sonia Zouari, team lead and senior architect, CSV Architects
  • Carolyn Andrews, architectural student, CSV Architects
  • Sam Milne, senior interior designer, HOK
  • Ally Darling, intern designer, HOK
  • Yomna Anani, intern architect, Parkin Architects