Inclusive Design at the Core
The Core is Eden's educational centre, located in the heart of the main site. It is a stunning building, designed to tell the story of plants and planned with an aspiration to meet the highest standards of sustainable design.
Sensory Trust was involved from the earliest stages, with a remit to address the social elements of sustainability. These aspects tend to be overshadowed by a focus on environmental and economic issues, despite the risk of creating buildings that fail to meet the needs of the people they are intended for. The result is often a need to retrofit the design afterwards, detracting from the overall look and feel, costing more money and compromising the environmental standards.
We worked with the client, Eden Project, designers Grimshaw Architects and the contractors, McAlpines Joint Venture, to integrate inclusive design into every aspect of the planning and design of the Core building.
Working closely with Caron Thompson, Eden's Sustainable Construction Manager, we used this work as a basis for developing the Social Sustainability Tookit: inclusive design, which is now a requirement of European funding for new capital projects in the South West.
Inclusive design aspects were considered and a set of targets was agreed right at the start of the planning process. One of the targets we set for the building was that it should have no “disabled refuges” and instead should ensure that all visitors could enter and leave the building easily from all three floors. As a three-storey building this set us an interesting challenge which was resolved by the architect and landscape architect working closely together to look at how the site levels could best be adjusted to accommodate the building and to create an exterior path network that would link to access points on each level. The end result is a three-storey building that has flush-level emergency egress on all levels and where it is possible to move between all floors using the external paths without use of lifts or steps.
Another target was to create transport access for disabled people adjacent to the building. The Core is in a central location on the site so this again was a challenge. It was resolved by allocating two spaces that could be shared by service vehicles and disabled drivers.
We also gave a lot of attention to acoustics design because this is an aspect of building design that often tends to be overlooked. We wanted to create café spaces and working areas within the open-plan building where people would not have to strain to hear each other talk. We were also aware that public spaces can be swamped by ambient noise and looked for ways to reduce these effects. This was achieved mainly by incorporating a sound baffle layer in the ceiling and putting carpets in work areas.
Early in the project we ran training with the design team where we looked at previous buildings at the Eden Project so we could learn how they had been used and what things could be improved upon. This was how we identified the target for avoiding disabled refuges and including accessible parking. The architects worked hard to find ways of incorporating accessibility in a way that complemented the overall design, for example clever use of lighting helps to distinguish the lift from the surroundings, making it easier to locate and reducing the need for signs and garish colours.
We ran training with the construction team which included walks around the building as it was under construction. We engaged the builders in disability and access issues in many ways, for instance using simulation spectacles to help them gain an insight into the implications of having different forms of visual impairment. Although it is acknowledged that the use of “Sim Specs” does not give a complete insight into the issues faced by people with visual impairment, the activity was one of several that engaged the project team with the concept of building for diversity. As a result we found that in the finishing stage of the construction we were being contacted by construction workers on site who were choosing to spot inconsistencies in the details and were keen to work to resolve them.
We ran post-design evaluation to find out how well the building was working for different people, inviting disabled individuals and disability groups to provide critical feedback. On a more informal basis, we receive more general feedback from visitors and staff on an ongoing basis. This has highlighted important snagging issues, but overall the building has received very positive feedback and has been flagged as a leading example of inclusive design by CABE, the UK's Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. This has helped Eden to be listed as number one visitor attraction in the Rough Guide to Disabled Britain.