With support from Progressive Architects and The American University in Cairo
An estimated 2% of the global population- across cultures, ages, socio-economic groups and geographies- identify somewhere along the spectrum of autism, engaging the world through a perceptual model different than that of the normative stance dictated by modernist standardisation. Despite great strides to stretch this normative view, the burden of adapting to sensory challenges falls almost entirely on the autistic users themselves, with designers of space absolved almost completely of the responsibility of inclusion, accommodation and adaptation to these needs.
In 2013 the Autism ASPECTSS® Design Index was developed to face this challenge and traverse this gap, providing a framework through which to conceive of autistic space. ASPECTSS® thinking is premised on the value of autistic insight and informed by the view of architectural spaces through an autistic lens.
This exhibit aims to bring into focus the value of this autistic lens and unpack and decode the autistic spatial tactic of sensory escape and need for modulation through the spatial constructs of sensory seeking, sensory refuge and transition.
Our built world today is increasingly a victim of capitalistic proliferation. Our spaces, surfaces, experiences and cognition have become a commodity and our cities have become canvases for sensory media, competing for our attention. Our sensory perception has become commodified, our sensory world colonised. No more so is this a challenge than through the autistic experience. As a unique, but equally valid way of seeing the world, the autistic experience affords us a litmus test for sensory taxation and can expose the impact of this sensory commodification on our cognition, mental bandwidth and ability to access space equitably.
This exhibit aims to highlight this experience and present autistic escape as a spatial protest to the sensory colonisation of our cities.
“A Case for Sensory Decolonisation: Autistic Escape”, is composed of two notions- a pair of parallel experiences creating spatial simulations of the dichotomy of the autistic spatial experience between the two poles of stimulation and refuge.
The first experience, presented on the wall, is a collage of sensory vignettes from the autistic lived experience- the Sensory Atlas- aiming to document experiences of sensory overload from our global city sensoryscapes from the lens of autistic individuals themselves. Using audio, photography, digital collage and film, it strives to capture the impact of the sensory colonisation of our cities and their landscapes on our autistic citizens.
The second experience stands in complete contrast to the first. Through the interactive spatial installation, visitors are invited to experience the power of sensory escape opportunities by proposing the notion of “EscapeScapes” or landscapes of escape.
Experimenting with this form of senso-spatial acupuncture, this installation allows users to step away from the multi-sensory noise of the simulated cityscape and experience the value of sensory refuge as a spatial strategy to counter the sensory colonisation of our cities and their spaces. It invites the audience to speculate on the cost of this sensory imposition on autistic citizens and our shared responsibility in accruing it.
We Invite You..... As you view this exhibition we invite you to be introspective, to try and become aware of the impact the sensory environment has on your experience- both while viewing the wall-mounted multi-media collection, and when stepping into the EscapeScape installation. What do you hear, see and feel in the two experiences presented in this work? Does it resonate with experiences in your everyday life? What impact do these experiences individually and collectively have on you? As you step away we invite you to reflect on your experience, and share your thoughts through a short survey.
Our hope is that this short vignette into the dichotomy of sensory overstimulation of our cities and sensory escape afforded by spaces of refuge will mobilise a call for a more thoughtful and intentional design of the sensory landscapes of our cities. Our goal is to highlight the need for a spatial infrastructure that allows the full spectrum of sensory experiences- escape, retreat and refuge from sensory over-stimulation, while allowing for sensory seeking. Our hope is that with these steps we can create cities, spaces and places that are more available for all experiences.