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Space to Retreat



It’s so important to us that the buildings and landscapes we create are so much more than simple shelter. We are always on the lookout for ways that we can inspire better mental wellbeing and this quote from Zaha Hadid highlights this. Creating spaces that trigger our imagination in all sorts of ways — be that a large gesture within a complex built form, or a small nuance in a streetscape — are crucial to creating better places.


A key feature of our well-being focused design ethos is that we look to design spaces in a way that feels engaging while still being psychologically comfortable. Research into anxiety shows that many people use distraction techniques to help them when they are feeling anxious; this happens in various ways — from reading a book, to playing mind games, or hiding behind a device. For some visitors and spaces, the best way to approach this is to provide triggers and opportunities that allow people to escape into their imagination, to distract themselves until they feel like they aren’t in the space at all.


Examples of this enabling design may be as simple as small cues to trigger imaginative play in a child’s bedroom (as in the images above), or the creation of views in a landscape that allow visitors to daydream and drift away from their surroundings. Perhaps a more urban context may require signage to enliven a creative route that encourages imaginative play, or lighting which animates the street scape, or a mural that lets your mind wander. Retreat into one’s imagination is possible in any space, so long as we leave room for it.



WIth our work in Ruskin Park — some images of which can be seen above — we were particularly aware of its location directly adjacent to Kings College Hospital and the Maudsley Mental Health Trust. We considered this to mean that people visiting this particular site are more likely to be affected by mental health issues or mental distress than in other localities. However, even without appreciating the needs of this specific visitor profile, a park is an ideal place to triggers one’s imagination.


One of the ways that we looked to achieve this was by proposing signage that highlighted the multiple varied routes through the park, giving visitors information on significant trees and the history of John Ruskin, while also creating separate individual spaces with the potential to be transformed.

View looking out of the rear of an extension to a house. We can see through the large glazed doors to the garden beyond and the skylight above a quiet seating area casts interesting shadows on a textured wall.

Within a home there may seem to be less need to have spaces that encourage this escape into your imagination — but that’s not always the case. Our homes are meant be our sanctuaries, but sometimes family life and the noise and bustle that comes with it can mean we need spaces to retreat to. Equally, on the days when one is alone and the family home feels empty, spaces that allow you to be engaged or distracted can provide solace and comfort in solitude.


This sunroom in our Friern Terrace project (seen above) is a great example of this. The window seat provides the perfect space to sit and daydream while the roof light casts shifting shadows on the textured brickwork opposite. Our decision not to include a TV in the area creates a space that is calm and open, allowing for more creative and imaginative uses. A healthy retreat into one’s imagination is easy in such an environment.

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