people that have issues with visual impairment, because actually a fairly small percentage of the registered blind population in the UK are totally blind – the majority have some degree of vision, ranging from moderate to severely restricted.”

Manoher says clear and logical layouts were another key consideration. “So, think- ing about orthogonal plan forms where, if for example someone is having to pace out a route through a building, they can do it very much in a way that’s quite simple. “This means making clear right turns here and there, and having a linear distance between one point and another that can be counted in steps – then residents can create a mental map of the space more easily.” Both the practice and the RNIB were clear in that, in the process of making them safe and accessible, the homes would not be made to feel “institutionalised”. One example of a way in which they achieved this was by employing colour contrasts. For the partially sighted, it is hugely beneficial that adjacent elements of a property, such as the door relative to a wall around it, be of sufficiently contrasting colours so that they can be seen more easily. The designers followed best practice of a 30 point difference in LRV – light reflectance value – between colours specified for adjacent elements.

In a more institutionalised environment, this may be achieved using contrasting colours but, as Manoher reveals, employing tonal contrast can be a more appropriate route. “You may go into an old RNIB build- ing and see that there are lots of blue doors and yellow handrails everywhere, and that’s because those colours contrast quite well, and they also tonally contrast quite well. “However, you can achieve the same effect using a dark grey and a light grey, which can have the same level of tonal contrast as blue and yellow. This provides more of a refined feel to a scheme, and doesn’t rely on these primary colours that can make it look institutional.”

Anything but simple

There have already been some significant challenges for the practice to overcome in the project, beyond just the difficulties of planning and upgrading existing buildings. One interesting challenge during the early stages of development was how to present the scheme to the RNIB’s residents and board members. “Ordinarily we rely heavily on drawings and diagrams to describe our designs. In this case we were encouraged to



use very descriptive language and assume that the audience could not see what we were talking about,” says the project architect.

“For example, whenever we talked about

the site, we talked about the fact that it’s the shape of the side of a foot, and we tried to describe different features in a way that someone can create a mental picture in their mind.”

The vital process of viability assessment was another challenge, having to ensure, for the client Countryside and RNIB that the business case for the scheme was viable. This included consideration of how the scheme would operate once complete. As Manoher puts it: “You have to make sure that you keep the balance - this is not just a charitable venture, it has got to stand up financially.” With these challenges now overcome however, the scheme is already shaping up to be a desirable community for both the RNIB residents and those buying in the open market. For the RNIB residents especially, the architects appear to have put a considerable amount of thought into the designs. “It’s about trying to make sure that it is sensitive, but that it’s not going over the top and making it feel institutional,” says Gardner Stewart’s Manoher Matharu. He concluded: “Our aim is to create a stimulating sensory environment for all residents. At the end of the day people are going to live here – it’s got to feel like home.” 


RNIB residents are spread across the site based on their needs, with the intention of allowing them to live as independently as possible

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