Design for Neurodiversity

Brain Trust: Architects engage with users to create environments that support those with a multiplicity of neurocognitive abilities and needs
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Architectural Record
By Katharine Logan

Learning Objectives:

  1. Discuss the range of neurocognitive conditions increasingly prevalent in the human population.
  2. Explain how these conditions can affect sensory and spatial experience.
  3. Discuss the role of wayfinding, lighting, and acoustics in designing for neurodiversity.
  4. Describe design strategies for accommodating neurodiversity in the workplace, in schools, and in health-care settings.


AAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines
AAPEI 1 Structured Learning Hour
MAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
This course can be self-reported to the NLAA.
This course can be self-reported to the NSAA
NWTAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
OAA 1 Learning Hour
SAA 1 Hour of Core Learning
This course can be self-reported to the AIBC, as per their CE Guidelines.
This course is approved as a Structured Course
This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines
Approved for structured learning
Approved for Core Learning
This course can be self-reported to the NLAA
Course may qualify for Learning Hours with NWTAA
Course eligible for OAA Learning Hours
This course is approved as a core course
This course can be self-reported for Learning Units to the Architectural Institute of British Columbia

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NO ONE expects that a person who uses a wheelchair could live their best life in a world without ramps. And yet the needs of people whose differences are neurological rather than physical are all too often ignored in design. Conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and others can affect how people process sensory information, hampering their ability to achieve their daily objectives, whether as learners, workers, patients, or in other life roles. Environments designed to support neurodiversity can help.


WAYFINDING at the BBC’s new headquarters in Wales is aided by a color-coded organization legible from a grand atrium (top). Private booths (bottom) are among the many types of spaces that employees can choose to work in over the course of a day.

“Neurodiversity” refers to the vast range of neurocognitive variability within the human population. Everyone has a unique nervous system, with a unique combination of abilities and needs, and, while most of the people most of the time occupy a range that’s considered neurotypical, for a significant and increasing minority (estimates range between 10 and 30 percent of the population), functioning beyond this range can open up exceptional strengths and pose daunting challenges. Strengths that are often associated with various forms of neurodivergence include—depending on the type and degree of the condition—high intelligence, creativity, leadership, focus, and/or attention to detail. Common challenges pertain to organization, distractibility, social interaction, and/or self-regulation. Because sensory experience can play a major role in determining whether the strengths or the challenges are out front, environmental design matters.

Recent buildings prioritizing design for neurodiversity include the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) new headquarters for Wales, with master planning and interior architecture by Sheppard Robson, and core and shell architecture by Foster+Partners; the Medical University of South Carolina Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital and Pearl Tourville Women’s Pavilion by Perkins&Will in collaboration with associate architect McMil­lan Pazdan Smith Architecture; and the Quad Preparatory Upper and Lower School renovations by Verona Carpenter Architects with ENV as executive architect on the upper school.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in January 2021