Inclusive design is defined as creating buildings and spaces that welcome everyone and consider the needs of people with physical, cognitive, and sensory impairments, including neurodivergence. We design inclusive spaces that empower people to live and thrive; places that promote equity, participation and wellbeing; places that provide comfort, ease of use, awareness, and understanding; places that respect and satisfy people of all ages, races, cultures, identities, and abilities.

BDP Quadrangle Studio and The Stereo D technology studio in Toronto offers a diverse range of inclusive areas for work, rest and play. Image Credits- BDP Quadrangle Studio, The Well, Toronto, photographer Adrien Williams. Stereo D Technology Studio, Toronto, photographer Richard Johnson

We know that collaborative science and technology buildings are key to the development of humanity’s most urgent innovations and discoveries. Designing innovative buildings to support the diverse individuals and groups who are critical to these lifesaving and groundbreaking endeavours is vital.

Scientists need to be able access and develop their greatest ideas to innovate with unrivalled success. To support this we can integrate play and recreation into our science and technology spaces to help scientists engage their widest cognitive experience. Play is universal. It restores and connects us and allows us to access our unlimited imagination. In the realm of science, playful environments can help make the leap from scientific discovery to scientific innovation.                                                                                               

A summer party at Manchester Science Park connects colleagues to each other and the natural environment. Image Credit – Manchester Science Park, photographer Paul Karalius

Scientists need spaces that restore them, that tap into their wellbeing because burnout in lab professionals is high. Therefore, prioritising wellness in laboratory buildings is not a luxury, but a necessity. It is crucial in attracting and retaining new talent, and subsequently sustaining their skills and knowledge in the long term.

Science must serve the entire population and as such scientists should be representative of this diversity of needs. Many buildings bring together people from different backgrounds, educations, and abilities. To be able to operate successfully, the spaces in which scientists and researchers collaborate should be reflective of diverse communities of workers and they need to be accessible to all.

We need to consider that 22% of Canadians have at least one disability. This represents 6.2 million people in Canada alone. Globally, an estimated 1.3 billion people experience significant disability. This represents 16% of the world’s population, or 1 in 6 of us. More than 15% of people in the UK are neurodivergent. We cannot ignore this wealth of talent and we should address these needs within our design to maximise the pool of talent available to SciTech businesses and institutions. Given that the needs of populations change over time, our designs should be future proofed and considerate to a mix of abilities for generations to come.

Quiet, calm spaces in our Toronto office supporting diversity in the workplace. Image Credit – BDP Quadrangle Studio, The Well, Toronto, photographer Adrien Williams

It’s clear that to have access to untapped talent and to ensure that the scientific discoveries coming out of the labs represent the diverse population it is serving, we need to introduce a variety of considerate design interventions and we need to listen carefully to the diverse communities of scientists and researchers. For years, designers have prioritised this in the education and healthcare sectors and it is time to apply the same care and attention to SciTech buildings. All spaces we create should be tactile, calming and varied in routes and wayfinding strategies, cognisant of all ranges of abilities and fully inclusive.

If we don’t have the widest range of these voices represented in our designs, we can lose sight of their needs and lose the opportunity to advance some of humanity’s greatest discoveries. As designers it is our duty to design for the needs of the widest spectrum of the scientific community; to ensure our buildings allow them to excel in a supportive and responsive environment.

Author: Michelle Xuereb, Architect Director, BDP