Category Archives: Place

Senses and Service connect us to Place

PlaceI was asked by Glass-House Community Led Design to join their debate around “To a more Ambitious Place” and the question “is our view of Place too short-sighted?” and was one of their speakers at their Bristol event 11th February 2015 which was written up by Maja Jorgensen in their Blog. As a continuation to that debate I post the following:

I’d like to begin by referring to couple of blogs I wrote a while ago “Sustaining Sustainability” and “Engaging Sustainability” about the need for achieving a broader and long term perspective to project preparation.  It is therefore encouraging to hear that in Wales the role of Place Coordinators is to build productive relationships and to help break down the barriers between communities and services.  Even though their role isn’t about urban design it’s worth reflecting that we usually get caught up with just the designer’s notion of Place and lose sight of what should be behind Place at a societal level.  Moreover, we tend to take for granted the very means by which we connect to Place at an individual level, namely our senses.

Frequently the word Place is used in a coupled or compounded form and connectivity is implied, such as Places of Worship, Workplaces, Dwelling Places and the Market Place.  But what makes Place really work on a societal level?   For example, a Place of Worship may arise through a movement and a mission (passion for service) and start to enfold a membership, and yet too easily becomes a monument!   The very place that was intended to facilitate service becomes an “idle idol” – drawing attention to itself and not the purpose for which they it was built.  Without serving a purpose, passion and connecting with people, places cease to function as they were intended.  Furthermore, some historic and even modern environments (that we are inclined to cherish) still present physical barriers because we put the fabric of Place before people.  But what about the sensory / neurological barriers that people encounter?

I have been taking particular interest in what I refer to as “Design for the Mind” and towards this I recently wrote “Place Working vs Open Plan” in which I sought to make the connection between our sensory needs and the tasks we undertake in the Place of work.  I believe that similar observations can be applied to urban realms and other Places albeit with different design solutions.

The work of Dr Jean Ayres  and more recently Dr Zoe Mailloux and Dr Winnie Dunn would suggest that we have differing sensory processing needs and respond to physical and social environments in different ways.  These needs are significantly influenced by vestibular, proprioception and tactile comfort and activity, the ability to access stimulating sound or cut out extraneous noise and our need to be able to choose locations with different degrees of human presence, outlooks, lighting, smells and even associations with taste.  For some these sensory processing needs are known to be more acute than others.  It also turns out that our visual field also plays an important part in our memory as with the act of going from place to another tends to wipe our memories; relocation from one place to another tends to be more difficult in older age.  Familiar environments tend to support memory and orientation.  Positive human presence can also help make us feel secure.  We need therefore to take more account of the dynamics that makes us feel stressed, calm, insecure or secure. For many our psychological needs go unnoticed, since many of us learn to “make do” – but at what cost?

I believe that we could be achieving better places, if we paid attention to Service Design principles and really paid attention to people’s physical, sensory and neurological needs – by engaging communities and those who provide inclusive design support.


Steve Maslin RIBA NRAC Consultant

Director of Building User Design



Research Fellow the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems



Place Working vs Open Plan

“Place” is a concept often used in architecture and urban design. But how often do we apply it to our working environments?

The issue is that most open plan offices pose challenges because of the disruption to our need for “place.” I believe this is because of the sensory conditions that they tend to impose on us – which maybe is being interpreted by some as a lack of “privacy” – perhaps for want of an alternative explanation? These challenges are arguably made even worse by some of the more draconian workplace regimes that require all staff to hot desk and/or conform to clear desk policies.

The work of Dr Jean Ayres would suggest that in order to function effectively and in tune with our personal sensory integration needs, we need to be able to find a place that suites us or adjust our environment to suite.

Our needs vary – but are significantly influenced by:
– physical comfort,
– our ability (or not) to cut out extraneous noise,
– preferences for access to daylight (see,
– our commonly held preference for access to views of the natural world and…
– our need to:
– adjust artificial lighting intensity position and colour;
– adjust what is in our visual field and to reinforce a sense of familiarity and recollection to aid our memory (see

It therefore goes without saying that workplace commissioners and designers ought to be doing all they can to address or at least mitigate the challenges posed by over simplistic and deterministic workplace strategies and to engage with our all-too-human sensory processing needs. Needs which it seems that we seem to forget and not necessarily realise could be laying behind our stress levels and attrition on our productivity.

For some these needs are known to be more acute than others (see For the rest of us, these needs could be going unnoticed, since many learn to make do. But at what cost to our health and the organisations we work for?

We can deduce from what we know of sensory integration and related neurological processes that interactive, adjustable and comfortable chairs and tables are necessary if we are to expect workers to function fully, as are optimised acoustics and good background lighting combined with good task lighting. Nevertheless we also know that some workplace environments downplay the need for access to daylight and the natural world. Do we achieve good productivity without these? I doubt that we do…. Academics such as Dr Ben Wheeler of Exeter University for example, are studying the relationship between wellbeing and access to nature. WGBC’s “Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices” would also indicate that many of these issues are significant.

However, I believe it’s the curious relationship between memory and our visual field that we could be doing more to address in design. As with the act of going from one room to another tends to wipe our memories, perhaps clearing desks or the lack of constancy when hot-desking doesn’t help either? I certainly know it doesn’t help me nor others that I’ve talked to. Would it therefore make sense in environments (where workplace managers might themselves be struggling with the sensory implications of what they perceive as clutter) to utilise desks designed in a contemporary response to the bureaus of old? With such an option, employees wouldn’t need to clear desks but only need to pull covers over their work space.

In the case of hot-desking, I sincerely believe it would be very wrong to expect all workers to hot-desk without providing an alternative as some workers would find the lack of workplace predictability very stressful. Nevertheless, what might help some to maintain their sense of visual continuity and memory in workplaces is the use of personalised trollies? Such trollies could be stowed away over night, rather than expecting workers to clear desks into lockers.

In conclusion, I believe that there are many ways that we could be achieving better working environments, if only we didn’t get carried away by trendy concepts but really paid attention to people’s physical, sensory and neurological needs and the relationship between these needs – known by some as sensory integration needs.

On and Beyond the Webpage

Towards a continuity of UX beyond the web page

6:45 PM to 8:15 PM Thursday, 7th November 2013

Ivy Church Ashley Hill Montpelier, Bristol BS6 5JD  

The venue is Ivy Church (BS6 5JD) for reasons of providing digital to physical accessibility – which forms part of the talk. Parking is provided although limited; the venue is on a major bus route and we’ll try to organise some car/taxi sharing. Tea/coffee at the close.

6.45pm for a prompt start at 7pm.

The Talk from Steve Maslin (Director of Building User Design Solutions Ltd (bud), Bristol)

Topic: The significance of information contained within the web environment, its impact on User Experience within the physical environment and how one might move towards a continuity of user experience where web pages point to places beyond themselves.

Getting to the venue

As the subject to the next SWUX talk draws attention to the significance of the digital realm in accessing the physical realm, it seems only logical to set out some of the things one might expect  on route to, and on arriving at, the venue:

  • Location: The address is Ivy Church at the bottom of Ashley Hill between Montpellier, St Pauls and St Werburghs (the post code BS6 5JD seems to centre the location pin further up the hill)
  • Public Transport: It is located on the number 5 and 25 bus routes, although not all bus and stops have level access (as yet)  The nearest rail station is Montpelier, (although there is a long and steep route to and from this)
  • Car Parking: There is on-site parking (although relatively limited) to the south of the church premises.  The surface of the car park is mainly compact gravel, although there are some concreted and tarmacadam surfaces.  (Drivers visiting the venue are advised to contact Steve Maslin on  07825 447709 to advise him of any particular parking requirements)  If you have no particular access parking requirements we ask that you make use of on street parking to allow access for others.
    Church Plan
    Church Plan
  • Route into venue: The route from the car park into the venue takes you out onto a flagstone pavement in front of the church, past the former entrance and up Ashley hill and via a pedestrian gateway to the north of the church and then a gradient down to the current entrance to the premises.
    Ivy Church
    Ivy Church
  • Entrance: Access via the entrance is via two sets of double doors that are not automated.  Please contact Steve Maslin on 07825 447709 to advise him of any particular assistance you might need accessing these doors and we will look out for you and facilitate access.
  • Toilets Facilities: Toilet facilities include a wheelchair accessible WC (although the layout is not particularly correct it is not especially bad!)
  • Refreshments: Teas and coffees will be made available (we regret that no alcohol is permitted)
  • Auditory Provisions: Amplification will be used and there is an induction loop for use by hearing aid users.
  • Visual Provisions:  We will be using a PowerPoint projector, with slides utilizing images to convey concepts that will then be explained.  If you would like a digital file with images described, or to enable you to enlarge on your own device, please contact Steve Maslin on 07825 447709, otherwise Steve will endeavour to describe what is being shown.   Visual clarity within the environment is reasonable, although seating isn’t particularly distinguishable from the floor for people with partial sight.  Please ask for assistance should you feel that finding your way around difficult.  Lighting is via fluorescent lighting.  We appreciate that this does not suite everyone, please advise us if you find such lighting especially problematic and we will endeavour to explore alternative arrangements for sharing this talk with you.
  • Fire escape: We have chosen this in part because all the facilities we have need are on the ground floor.  Please note that whilst the entrance is reasonably level, fire escapes are not level (including one route that entails a short flight of steps up and then down).  Please advise us of any particular needs that may give rise to such fire exits posing a challenge (by contacting Steve Maslin on 07825 447709) and we will endeavour to come to an appropriate arrangement in the circumstances.  

If you require any assistance of any kind please contact Steve Maslin on  07825 447709 or