The coLAB Project is a three week project with aims to respond, solve and collaborate from a non design based question or problem. which will be transformed into a collective installation open to the public on the 17th of May.
Organisation and request
Picked at random from a hat we were given the question of ” How can Design support people in care settings to experience the outdoors?” This is a question given to us by Lee Pearse and his brother. Dementia carers who run events held at Heeley City Farm, organised for dementia patients to get a taste of the outdoors.
Aiming to produce a sensory installation that can be experienced by people with dementia and their carers and families, with the intention of creating a loving and engaging environment. Aiming to provide a “vehicle” for family members and sufferers to bring them together. Sharing an experience, recreating bonds and new experiences for the patients and also loving memories for the supporters.
The first step was getting to know Lee and what he wanted our piece to represent. Speaking to him it became more apparent the little understanding we knew about the severity of dementia as an illness and more appropriate for us to do our research. Passing ideas back and forth, Lee and his brother, described the kind of things they found useful when making their mother comfortable through her times of dementia, However, every dementia patient sufferer is different and it became clear that we had to be sensible and sensitive for our client audience to make sure that what we were producing was engaging… and far from patronizing.
Mrs Montessori was one of the most important early educators of the century, graduating from university and spending time travelling the world ironically learning about learning. Montessori saw that “children learn best by doing and that happy self-motivated learners form positive images of themselves as confident, successful people. She created specially designed resources to foster independence and a love for learning” Understanding that dementia returns people back to basic functions we were inspired by Mrs Montessori’s’ idea of doing.. and helped us to understand how quality of life can be achieved again through self experience.
What our expert wanted from us..
During our first chat with Lee he spoke with us about his experience as a carer and mentioned a few things he knew his mother enjoyed. For instance she loved to feel the wind, dancing to music, oceanic or inland noises such as water and noises from the farm.
As he runs sessions for dementia patients up at Heely City Farm. He explained how this natural experience elevated pain, anxiety and suffering symptoms that many dementia patients suffer with. On this note, he happily offered us a variety of natural materials available from the farm, such as compost, wool, bark, wood-chip etc He was deeply interested in the 5 senses, he strongly suggested we produce something for each of the senses but it was up to us as designers, to research and design an outcome that would suit all of these requirements, but to be very careful not to produce something over stimulating.
research on dementia
Doing some research on Dementia, I discovered that the most common symptoms and characteristics of Patients are : Confused, Unable to understand, Hearing a medley of loud noises (that I’m not sure is a mix of the sounds of reality around them blurred together and not properly recognized by the brain, or a selection of imaginary sounds), Frightened, Distorted, Unable to distinguish reality.
I also had a look into what (as a collective) they needed-
Meaningful Activities, pleasant atmospheres, soft non hazardous items, exercise, comfortable shoes, Homely Environments.
with this information in mind and two members of the group having experienced dementia in their families we met at the library and begun brainstorming ideas..
We all chipped in our ideas and begun to consider the possibilities of each one until we came to a mutual decision. Some of the ideas that were thrown around was;
Gardening experience – Planting, growing, digging station for people to get their hands into, giving them an experience of the outdoors
create your own space – to apply paint and other materials to walls or canvases as this will both involve the carer and the patient and also give them something to take away with them.
Sensory stimulation- a series of stations dedicated to entertain, excite and explore the senses.
We worked with the idea of the 5 senses and explored ways of communicating them, with access to pallets from Tori’s work we revolved our ideas around using them to base our piece on. We divided the pallets into one sense per pallet, sight, touch, smell, sound, and taste. We removed taste from the equation for a number of health and safety, hygiene and purpose related problems.
Sight – We liked the idea of fairy lights, colours, shapes
Smell – plants, flowers, lavender, candles, oil burners
Touch – soft, rough, warm, cold, moisturizing, heavy, smooth, gritty
Sound – outdoors, animal noises, rain, birds, wood, sheep, wind, ocean
So with a rough idea in mind we collected the pallets from tori’s work and carried them back to the studio “lets use pallets they said” implying that it would have been easy transportation, but the reality was they were quite heavy haha!
So after successfully hauling the pallets to the studio, we begun sanding them down with a p100 grade sandpaper. We ensured that all surfaces of the pallet were smooth and splinter free and it took the best part of two days to do this task. Once they were finished they had a lovely rustic quality to them which we all found suiting.
Visiting Heely City Farm
We took a trip to the farm to get a feel of the atmosphere and the visual composition. The farm was welcoming friendly, rustic and organic, you felt comfortable to interact with things and found a sense of community as you entered.
For our sound pallet we decided to record noises from the farm, with this I created a quirky little compilation of the noises. I especially love the 2:30 close up of the rooster…
We walked around the farm noting down certain plants we wanted to use for our project and Lee kindly offered to fetch them to us at a later date, for the meantime we took some vine with us and took inspiration from one of the gardens that had used the vine to weave small fences.
Cutting and weaving the vine was a rather difficult process, it was tough and tight to squeeze the vines through, and although we took a whole bunch of vines, it only accumulated to a small portion of the pallet but the outcome was still great and had good acoustic qualities.
The next step for our project was creating the rain sounds, we wanted our piece to be interactive and so we came up with a simple idea of rice, pasta and plastic confetti into a tube. To slow down the rice we coiled tinfoil inside the tube and glued the ends on. This simple idea was very effective. Once they were made we needed to attach them to the pallet, we discussed and came with the idea of bolting them on, but leaving the bolt extended so that the tubes could be spun. We drilled holes with a hand drill and drilled a pilot hole for the bolt to sit into, we attached the bold with two nuts on either end of the pallet and made sure the tubes did not collide when being spun.
Visuals – Voss bottles
We bought voss bottles from a Tesco to create the visual shakers, we chose voss bottles because of their visual aesthetic, they are sleek, long and do not distract from the contents inside.
Attaching the bottles has been the most challenging part of this project. We all had different ideas on how we could display them, some wanted them to be removable to play with then return, some wanted them to be stationary or spun, We all decided to make them spin, this would make it easier for dementia patients to interact with them and eliminate the risk of injury from dropping them as they are rather heavy.
We bought drainpipe brackets in the attempt to secure them to the wood, when we put the bottles inside the brackets it was a perfect fit, But unfortunately this left no room for them to be spun. Due to the shape of the brackets we were able to make them larger by drilling two holes in to the connecting ends and to attach tie wraps which did the trick.
Our next problem was stopping the voss bottles from sliding outward. We cut out of 2mm plywood the exact shape of the brackets and glued them in place. We drilled pilot holes in to the pallet and bolted the brackets in place. Unfortunately as errors happen frequently when testing, some of the brackets were too far away and so the bottle was not secure and slipped out from the inside. After much deliberation we took off the brackets and came to the idea of using 18mm plywood to cut out brackets that would be more stable then the flimsy plastic and more fitting the overall aesthetic. However, as any design project goes, this changed once again due to time restraints, we decided to re-attempt our first idea but with drain pipe cut into wider slices of 7cm in length, with one bolt sitting through the wood and the pipe, providing a stopper, and another bolt sitting half the length to stop the bolts pivoting which was the problem with our first attempt.
Buying drain pipe, we needed something with a larger diameter of 7cm to allow the bottles to spin. Ariving at Wicks we had only the option of 7cm, or 10cm, so we had no choice than to go for the larger option, and calculate ways to make it snugger.
We used a band saw to cut a slice through one slice of the drain pipe and over lapped them to reduce the size of the diameter, to around 8-9cm roughly. We held it together with masking tape, this allowed us to to keep the shape size we wanted and also gave us some grip for the hand drill to sit on a precise spot.
Drilling the holes we made sure we were going through at a straight angle, which would help the bolt run through the other side smoothly.
After noting that Lee found that his mother enjoyed physical sensations from things such as the farm, we took inspiration from this and created sensory box’s to place in some materials. We chose compost, wood chip, seeds, rice, etc to place in the box’s for people to get their hands stuck in. Using these materials we understood may not be very clean, for instance the compost, but we will provide hand cleaning facilities. We really wanted to go with the direction our question intended, which was to help people in care settings to experience the outdoors, and what better way to do so than to bring the outside in.
Our first attempt at the box’s was more of a diy attempt, we crafted them out of cardboard, using a net from a subway salad box. Mine personally was a shambles, but luckily Megan and Joseph seemed to have mastered the art of box making and produced a lovely proto-type
They looked great, but our concern was the test of time, would they last with people constantly putting their hands into them? we decided not to risk it and to lazer cut box’s instead.
We broke up the composition by making some material patches for people to play with, such as fur, seeds and stones.
I glued the stones on with a strong two part glue, and the seeds with PVA, unfortunately the glue for the stoned did not bond well and so the stone panel had to be abandoned. The fur, came from Tori’s old Russian style hat which I dissected with a craft knife and glued with pva. These patches are attached to A5 size pieces of card bord.
Next was the second part of the visual wall. We wanted to use LED lighting. however, we did not want to overstimulate people so we decided to use a slightly translucent throw away table cloth to cover over them. To attach this sheet to the pallet we made sure it was up to measure and staple’d the sheet to the wood tightly. We also stapled the wire of the LED lights to the pallets insuring the lights were placed between the gaps of the wood. This was a nice easy part of the project.
Another element of our touch wall that we gathered from the farm was our real peacock feathers. One of the birds sadly died the week before and they kept the feathers and said we could use them which was a privileged as they are such beautiful birds…
The living wall was the most exciting part of our project, we gathered plants and shrubs from Heely city farm, and some we processed our selves. We drove back from Heely with the car brimming to the edges with flowers, we felt like we had came from the wild.
We fetched bags of soil and compost we needed three in total to fill our pallet and around 25-30 plants. To secure our flowers in our pallet we used woven landscape membrane stapled to the back aides and bottom of our pallet. We left the top exposed to allow for flower maintenance. We tried to make sure our membrane was as secure as possible, so for a little extra support we nailed some cardboard to the bottom and sides as a precaution. Three bags of soil later and the pallet was ready to be planted, with all of us having little gardening experience we went with the flow and hoped our flowers would be secure. Some of the plants were very large and solid in their soily’ bases, so we resorted to hammering some of the flowers in, which was a comical method but it did eventually do the trick without causing too much damage…
Then came the moment of truth, picking it up into place, as heavy as it was it took all 5 of us to safely and slowly raise it upwards, and although the back was bulging and a lot of soil did tumble outwards, it was up secure and looking good. A proud moment for us all as it was finally pulling together, all it needed was a few more finishing touches and it was ready to go.
So after three weeks of push backs hard work, walking back an forth from the workshop because we constantly needed bigger drill bits more bolts screw drivers etc, idea changed, working together, many laughs and some great new friends we all came together to produce a beautiful sensary piece that we are all incredibly proud of…
I feel our Team worked well together, we all worked towards our strengths and settled well into our roles, I thought we all worked well as leaders and followers. We discussed ideas well by listening to each other and contributing the efforts. Thank you Team, its been emotional! haha x