THE SENSORY ROOM / 2010
Art in the public space
The Vlaamse Bouwmeester for the Heemschool in Neder-Over-Heembeek, Belgium commissioned the Sensory Room. The project was initially in collaboration with B-architects who had to shelve their part of the project due to funding issues.
We had never heard of a ‘sensory room’, even though it’s a common feature of schools for physically and mentally challenged students. We smiled when we heard the Flemish translation; Snoezelkamer, but when we saw the room itself, we thought it was just brilliant.
Charles: Actually, every nursery school should have one.
Sarah: And every primary and secondary school...
C: Hmmm, secondary schools too? I suppose a room like that could chill teenagers out a little. But I think it would be more likely to turn into a party chamber.
S: [Smiling], Yes, you’re probably right...
C: There are students aged up to 21 at the Heemschool – the special school we chose to work with.
S: Do you know what Snoezelkamer means?
C: Not really. Something to do with cuddling?
S: It’s actually about stimulating the senses, which is why it’s also called a ‘sensory room’.
C: Primarily auditory and visual stimulation, then. Hence the disco-ball they have in there.
S: Yes. It casts pretty patterns of light on the walls when you shine a spotlight on it. The way the patches of light dance around is very hypnotic.
C: So a sensory room is basically a chill-out room...?
S: It’s a place to calm yourself, but also to stimulate your senses.
C: In an impulsive way, without it all becoming too much. That’s why I think the work we do for the sensory room needs to be accessible.
S: What really struck me during our visit to the Heemschool is how the students there were fascinated by the weather. I mean by the concept of weather as such. Apparently, it’s impossible to teach when it’s snowing, because the kids are all glued to the window.
C: And the fact that they get so involved in ‘looking forward to something’, but that when the moment finally arrives, they’re already looking forward to the next thing. They spend three days making papier-mâché figures for St Nicholas’ Day, on 6 December, and when he turns up, all they want to know is when will Father Christmas be coming.
S: Experiencing the moment is less important than looking forward to it. It’s a bit like preferring to see a place from a distance to actually being there.
C: Which is why I thought of a ‘view’.
S: And since the weather evidently has such an impact on them, we could use that to transform the view...
C: A landscape
S: ... that transforms.
C: It’s not hard to translate a season into an emotion.
S: A mood.
C: Spring is being in love; winter is depression...
S: Autumn is restlessness and summer is total ecstasy.
C: So the sensory room could be a place where they can long for somewhere else...
S: A view of the world.
C: And all that while lying on an egg-shaped bed.
S: White half-eggs that surround them like a cocoon.
C: ... Beneath the starry sky of the dome, in which the sensory room is located.
S: Their very own planetarium.
C: The room itself is a kind of bubble – an infinite space.
S: Like in the Sci-fi film Soylent Green, in which the dying person’s last dream is projected onto the ceiling and walls of a gigantic dome.
C: Something like that. Except the kids aren’t going to die or be turned into food afterwards. I’d say it’s more like the children’s room in Akira.
S: A panoramic image that runs forever, in which the four seasons overlap.
C: In the middle of the space there’s a rotating platform on which the egg-shaped beds are placed.
S: The beds gradually rotate with the platform, so that they go through all the different seasons and changes in the landscape.
C: There are tiny loudspeakers on either side of the headrest, so they can hear the sounds of nature that go with the landscape they’re looking at.
S: The architects who are building the school need to incorporate that dome in their plans.
C: And the panorama can be in the wall, as if it were a window looking outside.
S: Perhaps we can persuade them. As a reference to that 18th-century architect – Étienne-Louis Boullée – who designed buildings with domed roofs at a time when they didn’t yet have the technology to build them.
C: Like a glimpse into the future.
commisioned by The Vlaamse Bouwmeester
in collabortation with Lahaag, Pepite Production and Margarita Production
soundtrack composed by Lieven Dousselaere