Re-imagining Rio Salado's Sensory Experience: Restorative Design Promoting Sensory and Healing Environments for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder
This project focuses on providing a series of Sensory Design Guidelines (SDG) for the creation of restorative environments for people and nature promoting cognitive health, motor skill development, and outdoor therapy for urban society’s most vulnerable. Although the project framework is structured around guidelines for the creation of spaces specifically designed for children with Sensory Processing Disorder, it is not restricted to that specific application. Guidelines are further developed structured around inclusive and universal design approaches.
The project is divided into four sections. The first section explores what Sensory Processing Disorder is, how Occupational Therapy with Sensory Integration positively impacts healing processes, and how designers can expand this processing into the natural healing environment of the great outdoors in a toxic and urbanized world. The second section discusses the vision, goals and objectives for implementation of Sensory Design Guidelines as discussed in the third section. And finally, the fourth section provides a conceptual example of what SDG would look like when applied to a physical site along a natural corridor in a densely urbanized landscape.
The final example of SDG implementation is applied to a site along the Salt River (Rio Salado) Corridor in Phoenix, Arizona. The Corridor is the subject of a coordinated inter-agency public/private restoration initiative spanning more than fifty-five miles along the Salt River that has been strongly supported by former U.S. Senator John McCain and greatly influenced by active involvement from Arizona State University students. The designated example site is designed as one site to be utilized in a larger network of easily accessible Sensory sites, each to be designed with a different approach to sensory development, as well as variation in challenges based on age and sensory abilities. Guidelines are intended to work in conjunction with future local projects promoting social and ecological growth and wellbeing, such as the Phoenix site is intended to work in conjunction with future Rio Re-imagined projects.
The findings, guidelines, and examples provided throughout the paper are focused on re-inventing the relationship between the built and natural environments in the urbanized landscape into one of daily nature-engagement and can be applied to any group living within an urban setting. By designing for society’s most vulnerable populations, design application benefits not only the individual, but creates a resilient, healthy environment for the entire urban population today, and for future generations.