Architecture Program


Date of this Version

Spring 5-8-2015


A THESIS Presented to the Architecture Faculty of The College of Architecture at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Architecture, Major: Architecture, Under the Supervision of Professor Rumiko Handa. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2015

Copyright (c) 2015 Hannah E. Schurrer


Schurrer, Hannah E. "Architecture Through The Senses" Master of Architecture Thesis, The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2015


Current academic environments do not allow Children with Sensory Processing Disorder(spd) to function at an appropriate degree. They are either isolated in an environment which caters to their needs or are vulnerable in the uncontrollable environment of the “real world”.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. It’s a neu­rological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and other impacts may result if the dis­order is not treated effectively. (spd foundation)

One in every six children experience sensory symptoms that may be significant enough to affect aspects of everyday life functions. (spd foun­dation)

Because this problem is becoming more and more prevalent, it is important to redefine what it means to access a space. Access by definition is experiencing a space in the way it is intended to be experienced. The relationship between people, environment, and well-being becomes the greatest contributing aspect to our daily life. When someone with a mental disability cannot access that space in our daily life, then the space becomes restricted from a certain user group.

The range of users increases as the access to the space becomes more accessible to the user. Accessibility in design is only being applied in a physical concept and not a mental one. This mental disability can be discussed through certain deficiencies, more specifically sensory pro­cessing disorder which is found in children with autism and other children.

One must be able to physically and mentally understand the space to fully function in that space. If the effort of understanding the space is lowered, that saved energy can then be directed in a productive way. In an autistic child’s situation, instead of taking time to learn to cope with their surroundings, the focus can be directed on learning. The built environment, as part of a larger system, can aid in the comprehension of a new or difficult environment.

A building’s ability to create ambience enables a large amount of possibility and control. Through this, a building can become a control element for the program within. Scenarios causing over-stimulation in people with SPD can hope to be reduced. If a building can reduce the occurrences of these scenarios from happening, then the focus can return to learning and transitioning into a real world environment.

This thesis project will look into how the building can become a transitional vehicle. My design will look at the design of an elementary school which will allow all children to function at a higher level. In particular my project will take an existing building and use it as a “default” school to focus in a new building design through three categories- acoustics, lighting, and adjacencies.

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