Getting on site: Taking a macro and micro approach

Mark Slater
Mark Slater
Design Director, West Waddy Archadia architects studio

West Waddy Archadia (WWA) are delighted to sponsor the Sight Loss, Home and the Built Environment section of the Housing LIN website. We have extensive experience of design and planning for a variety of clients in the built environment. One of our specialisms is designing for older people and people with disabilities which has allowed us to gain greater insight into how we design spaces and communicate effectively for people with varying requirements.

Through architecture, urban design and planning we are constantly looking at the macro and micro scales and it is no different when thinking about making everyday situations simple and legible for blind and partially sighted people.


On the macro scale, infrastructure can easily be made illegible by misunderstanding of its purpose. There are many examples of misunderstanding the reason for certain designs or indeed the status quo. A recent example is the artwork pedestrian crossings installed across the country. The bright designs are intended to improve the links, identify certain routes and bring art and awareness to the city centres. However, these interventions can present problems for the visually impaired as they have lost the clarity of message inherent in the original design.

The traditional crossings were considered by some as mundane, but they were designed to be legible. The point of a crossing is to highlight a safe point, the markings are to warn drivers that there may be pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross the road. Designers and artists need to ensure their designs are inclusive for all and take special care when safety is involved.


Design and the built environment are collaborative disciplines and only when all involved work together and share their understanding do we get truly inclusive designs. We have worked on many older persons’ housing projects which were designed with sight loss in mind, but through later choice / change of furnishings interiors have become difficult for residents. Poor choice of finishes colour and design of fabrics can easily make good spaces have become illegible. This is particularly important in these types of projects where many of the same principles apply for dementia-friendly design, as highlighted in the APPG Inquiry report, Housing for people with dementia: Are we ready?

As project teams we need to collaborate with users, consultants and contractors to be able to create spaces that work for all. This requires:

Understanding space – Design

It is not only in the project outputs where inclusive design is important, the design journey and process are equally important for clients to understand. Recently our Design Associate Kathryn Gundry took part in the Pathways programme with Habinteg and the CAE. One of the sessions she sat in on was about understanding plans. There were several participants with sight loss. How we describe spaces and create understandable drawings which are multisensory became apparent as an area which needed greater consideration.

We believe that for all clients understanding space becomes easier with models, both virtual and physical. We currently use 3D drawing programmes to generate walk throughs and realistic images to illustrate sizes and how spaces work. These are difficult or impossible for users with sight loss to access, so for us we believe the next step would be to translate this into the real world. It would be fairly simple to provide plans in a format with raised lines: however, many people struggle with reading plans and visualising how that works translated to full size.

There are also university modules which utilise warehouses to allow you to build your space in cardboard boxes, is this could be something we could utilise with clients. Alternatively mock ups using screens or boxes to layout spaces and rooms for them to experience would work. Often students use masking tape on the floor to understand space, this may enable clients to gain a better interpretation of space. We should be offering an “experience” of the proposal rather than a plan version. The utilisation of Virtual Reality and reality itself may help clients appreciate and understand their spaces.


Understanding the built environment is personal. We have experience with our own employees in the workplace where for example the after effects of having a detached retina makes simple seeming decisions such as the size / angle of a computer screen more complex. When we rearranged our offices, we needed to consider individual preferences and needs. Where are windows, do they cause glare? What type of light fittings do we have? Is the layout of the furniture easy to understand and without trip hazards? There is a plethora of decisions which make an office environment, or home environment habitable and usable. And with COVID-19 in mind, we also need to think about the wellbeing of our staff working from home. More on this in Kathryn’s Housing LIN guest blog, Are you ready to be isolated? Wellbeing lead approach to live/work housing.

WWA understand the importance of ensuring design and planning caters for blind and partially sighted people at all scales. However, this is only one aspect of design and we also have a number of other considerations from ensuring good acoustics for people with hearing loss to ensuring good accessibility and both building and neighbourhood scale for people with limited mobility. Only using a holistic and inclusive approach to design and planning can this be achieved. We can only achieve good project outcomes through collaboration and sharing knowledge across disciplines and the wider industry.

Visit the WWA website (opens new window) for more information. 

And, if you found this blog of interest, you can also read a range of other resources on sight loss, home and the built environment on the Housing LIN’s dedicated webpages.

Lastly, if you would like to find out more about how the Housing LIN can provide you with bespoke support or would like to contribute a guest blog on your personal or professional experience, please email us at:


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