Neurodiversity conscious spaces: how should the new British Standard change the way we design

This week marks Neurodiversity Celebration Week which “aims to bring about worldwide neurodiversity acceptance, equality and inclusion in schools and workplaces.” Here, Hilson Moran’s Sustainability Director, Marie Louise Schembri, reflects on how the industry has embraced neurodiversity within its approach to design and gives an explanation on the BSI’s PAS 6463: 2022 guidance on the subject published in October last year.

This time last year, I wrote a blog to mark Neurodiversity Celebration Week outlining my thoughts on whether the industry was designing and building for those estimated 30-40% of the population that are thought to be neurodiverse. 12 months on, as the anniversary of Neurodiversity Celebration Week comes around again, I have been reflecting on what built environment professionals should know about adopting the BSI’s PAS 6463: 2022 ‘Design for the mind: Neurodiversity and the built environment’ guidance.

This guide is a definite first for the sector and boldly treads new ground for inclusive design that extends far beyond physical access, acknowledging that many people experience and interact with the world around them in different ways. It covers all buildings and external spaces for public and commercial use and focuses on elements such as lighting, acoustics, finishes, layout, thermal comfort and odour. How much do we expect this to change the way we design today?

A considerable number of measures are not new to anyone who has recently been involved in Grade A workplace design and fit-out, public realm and placemaking. Many are already present in a new generation of buildings and interiors, driven by policy and market demand for environmental and wellness features and certification schemes, such as BREEAM and WELL.

For example:

  • Glare through windows and from reflective surfaces. We typically control glare around computer screens and because of health and safety around visibility. We now know it can particularly affect people with greater sensitivity to light, causing distress and sensory overload.
  • Careful attention to wayfinding. Particularly in terms of the contrast, colour and lighting used, the clarity of information and duplication of formats and the opportunity to preview information.
  • Wellness focused interiors. Looking at access to green space and biophilic design, improved daylight, lighting levels and air quality and the inclusion of semi-enclosed quiet zones and a variety of work environments. These are more the norm in new office fit outs rather than the exception.

Yet, other recommendations from the new guidance are unfamiliar, and it is these features of interior space that will become the differentiators of inclusive design. Stand out suggestions include:

  • The need for curved and chamfered surfaces, and recesses. For example, replacing angular and straight details to make the experience for persons with information processing difference more reassuring and calming.
  • Selecting entrance canopies with material that does not accentuate the sound of rain. And providing sufficient space and seating outside an entrance to give persons an opportunity to pause and reset before entering a building.
  • Avoiding contrasting ground surfaces and trim details in transitions. Bold and contrasting floor patterns and reflective surfaces can cause confusion and should be avoided.
  • Providing a kitchen counter at a distance from noisy appliances. Acoustic environments need to be varied to offer the users choice, including spaces that are not typically designed for focus and productivity.

In the near future these notable variants will be the tell-tale signs of an environment that puts people first, however they interact with their surroundings.

This is going to be a collective journey, one in which we share our applied experience and contribute to each iteration as the guidance evolves – the guide humbly admits that expertise is lacking, and our understanding of harmful environmental factors is still evolving. But we are heading in the right direction with the first step to acknowledge it and demand its application in design briefs and leasing heads of terms.

If you’re considering sitting on this new information for a while and waiting it out, think about the generation you’re designing for today. Inclusivity will be a stamp of approval for successful design. You may already be part of the way there with a wellness and agile working agenda and just a few cost-neutral or simple modifications could result in the higher value outcome and make your environment more sensory inclusive for all.

Image credit: Atelier Permain & RCKa Architects

As part of its aspiration to achieve a net zero carbon property portfolio by 2035, Howard Group, the Cambridge-based property investor and developer, has announced the appointment of Hilson Moran as Sustainability Consultant for the Group’s flagship development Unity Campus. Hilson Moran has been commissioned to develop a sustainability strategy and implementation plan for the Campus including measures for waste, water and energy reduction.

Since acquiring the 11-acre site, which had been home to a thriving tannery for over 100 years, Howard Group has successfully completed a number of environmental initiatives. These include a major programme of land remediation and the repurposing of the tannery’s former hide market into a stunning modern workplace comprising both wet laboratories and offices. By retaining the original concrete floors and steel frames, Howard Group saved approximately 1,900 tonnes of embodied carbon emissions whilst achieving a contemporary industrial feel to the workspace.

To reduce pollution and congestion, initiatives are being explored to facilitate the use of car sharing and public transport. Increasing the provision of electric vehicle charging is also a priority, as well as the introduction of renewable energy generation onsite. An orchard was planted last summer as part of the late Queen’s Jubilee celebrations.


The site, which is currently home to 12 leading life science and technology companies including Domainex, IONTAS, Liminal Biosciences, Phoremost and Summit Therapeutics, is undergoing a major expansion. Three new laboratory buildings totalling 90,000 sq ft are currently under construction and due for completion by the end of 2023. In addition, outline planning consent has been achieved for a further 60,000 sq ft of laboratory and office space, expected by the end of 2025. All buildings will be BREEAM rated, targeting ‘Excellent’ with carbon-conscious design being integrated at all stages of the development process.

Howard Group’s CEO Nicholas Bewes said: “Sustainability underpins every aspect of the design, development and operation of Unity Campus. We are now at a stage in our journey to net zero carbon where we need a cohesive site-wide strategy. We were impressed with Hilson Moran’s sector knowledge and expertise, together with their innovative thinking which spans both practical “quick wins” as well as long term measures.”

Francesca Prestinoni, Senior Sustainability Consultant, Hilson Moran added: “We are pleased to support Howard Group in the delivery of a sustainability strategy and implementation plan for Unity Campus, by assessing the existing built assets and considering upcoming elements to the scheme. The strategy aims to identify new opportunities, leveraged by innovation, that can help optimise resource use, minimise waste, pollution and emissions, and maximise the overall sustainability credentials whilst fostering social wellbeing. Unity Campus is set to become a leading example for sustainability, as the Campus has a strong potential to contribute to a local economy, deliver social value, safeguard environmental resources and pursue the net zero carbon agenda.”

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