HARRIS, NEW YORK. 2007-2009. This project is a small living and teaching campus for children with autism spectrum disorders located in Harris, New York. The campus consists of nine residences, and three classroom buildings sited in a gently rolling deciduous woodland.
Working closely with the staff and faculty of the Center, we learned about the particular environmental needs of this community, and attempted to make an architecture that was nurturing and sympathetic to those needs.
The issue of ‘transitional’ space seemed to be key to understanding the specific issues of the autistic spatial sensibility. Many people with autism react negatively to sudden changes in spatial conditions, as well as to large undifferentiated spaces. The building plans in this project, therefore, unfold as continuous fluid arrangements of the program. Change in direction is signaled by gradual bends rather than abrupt turns. Space expands gradually, or contracts slowly, leading the body along, transitioning from one part of the program to another.
This careful choreography of the unfolding of space extends to the site as well. The buildings were designed to swerve and slip through the wooded landscape, flexing and bending to conform to the meandering topographic contours of the land. From the paths leading into the campus, the bending walls of the houses draw both the eye and the body into the center of the site, and finally, to the doorways of each of the buildings.