John Zeisel has a doctorate in sociology and has trained in architecture and neuroscience. He has designed care homes for people suffering from Alzheimer’s and hospital rooms for premature babies. The information about prem. Babies was new to me.
The brains auditory and visual pathways and sense organs develop before the foetus is exposed to external stimuli. During the last few months it starts sensing noise and vibration. The retina and visual cortex are still developing. If the babies are born prematurely this development is disrupted by exposure to artificial lights, noisy equipment, the voices of doctors etc.
This creates permanent damage, which means they cannot discriminate between frequencies and tones as well as other babies. They can develop speech difficulties and never become good musicians. Being exposed to overbright lights too early means that the eye grows too quickly, often resulting in myopia.
John Zeisel’s idea is to design places that act as a substitute for the womb; an environment that supports what is going on in the brain.
But it was his use of design in Alzheimer’s care homes that made me realize why I feel comfortable in my home. According to Zeisel, most care homes have hallways that all look the same. This is distressing to Alzheimer’s patients who can’t remember what’s around a corner or which way to go.
Zeisel has overcome this by having all hallways and pathways ending with a visible destination. Such as having a fireplace or kitchen or something the person can associate with safety visible at all times. He also puts familiar photographs, chosen by the patients, on the walls so they have a sense of place. They don’t wander around because they can see where or what they are going to. This lowers the level of anxiety.
To quote Zeisel:
“If somebody has amnesia, and cannot remember certain things, they say: “I don’t know who I am.” To remember something you need to know where it happened as well as when it happened. Place is essential to memory: without a memory of place, people lose their sense of self.”
My home is small, in the old language, 13 squares. Every room is visible from another. The only longish hallway leads to the kitchen and I filled one wall of it, floor to ceiling, with books. The way mirrors are placed there is a view around every corner. I’ve never grown tired of it and I feel safe in it. So now if I go into a house and hate it immediately then it’s just my cognitive mapping ability that’s offline and nothing to do with the purple shagpile carpet and orange feature wall.