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Master's Thesis: A Modulation of Senses

a modulation of senses: defining space for individuals with autism

Master's Thesis Design Studio

Thesis Statement: 

With today's continuing obligation to cater to the needs of all individuals, I will design a series of sensory spaces to be adapted into a residential living community for the increase in quality of life and independence for adults and adolescents living with low functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder. 


Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder have difficulty distinguishing relevant from irrelevant stimuli due to the fact they are unable to organize sensation into meaning and concept. These individuals fall somewhere in the spectrum of being hyper-sensitive or hypo-sensitive to their surroundings. Their constant discomfort in the environment is what causes them to have social and behavioral anxiety. If they were able to dwell in spaces that strongly catered to their sensory needs, they would be more capable of feeling relaxed, socializing, gaining independence, and reaching their goals. 

Full Thesis Document

interactive media pods: 

gaining an understanding of The hypo- and hyper- sensitive perspective

When looking through the peephole of the “hyper” pod, one gains a glimpse of the perspective of a hyper-sensitive autistic individual. In this case, everything in this individual’s environment is overly stimulating. This person would benefit from living in the low stimulus wing of the residential community. To this individual the contents of the space are overwhelming to the point of discomfort.

Some objects appear oversized and some colors are too bright. A room that is slightly messy to the average person feels so cluttered to the hyper-sensitive individual, that it threatens to swallow him whole. A crescendo of noises from the street and people nearby haunt the individual.  The loud noises, brightness, and disturbing objects in this space easily evoke panic.  

When looking through the peephole of the “hypo” pod, one gains a glimpse of the perspective of a hypo-sensitive autistic individual. In this case, everything in this individual’s environment is under-stimulating. To this individual the contents of the space are devoid of detail, color, and texture. Sound is muffled and muted and light is pale in the monochrome and empty world. Due to this lack of sensory input, this individual yearns for stimulation from extraordinary sources of sensation. This individual would benefit from living in the high stimulus wing of the residential community where he or she can enjoy bright colors, fantastical forms, and a lively ambiance that allows them to engage meaningfully with their environment.

An Axonometric Representation: Explaining the Design Concept

The drawing above represents the dichotomy between the landscaping and building intent of the design. The pedestrian paths and subterranean parks weave themselves around and inside of the residences. The site's goal is to define itself into two languages; the low and high stimulus. The building contains two wings; the left being for hypo- stimulated individuals and the right wing being for the hyper- stimulated individuals. The wings are connected by two transitional tendrils; one catering to everyday amenities such as cafes, tech usage, lounge areas, and music and art rooms. The other tendril is filled with sensory zones. This tendril caters to residents with autism that prefer to dwell in spaces that aid their modulated senses. Within both wings, the program is separated into three floors of sensory zones and three floors of residences. Exploded from the wings, are the forms of the sensory zones; each tube-like structure catering to a different sense. 

Below is an index that gives a basic explanation of the human scale designs that sit within the interior and exterior sensory zones. These furniture pieces allow the autistic residents to cater to their modulated sensory environment. 

View From the Residences in the High Stimulus Wing

High Stimulus Sensory Zone for the Hypo-Sensitive

High Stimulus Furniture

Audio / Visual Pods

Proprioceptive Vestibular Ramps

Tactile Walls

View from residences in the low stimulus wing

low stimulus sensory zone for the hyper-sensitive

Low Stimulus Furniture

Audio / Visual Pods

Proprioceptive Vestibular Ramps

Tactile Walls

Transparent sections and plans

These detailed sections and plans of the site sit within frames that emit light from behind the drawings. The purpose of representing the technical drawings in light boxes is to further prove the concept of viewing the world through a different sensory lens. Viewing the sections specifically in this stacked manner, allows for a unique 3D representation of the building. The sectional drawings in the light box become a physical model of the building and landscape. 

diagrams: the resident's perspective in the park

Each image takes the viewer through moments in the subterranean and heightened park experience. The illustrations in the circular bubbles represent the personal interpretation of the autistic individual's surroundings.

Process models: 3d prints

the building within the larger site 


The residence sits within the neighborhood of Tribeca in New York, NY. The lower west side of Manhattan is an interesting place to explore this thesis for a number of reasons. Currently, many residences for adults with autism are placed outside of cities, usually far into the country. Although it seems fair to remove these people from sensory overload, it is not the most convenient choice. Families of these people often do not live close to their loved ones. The hypo-sensitive are cared for, but their modulated senses are not. They need a large amount of stimulation and there is no way the quiet country can cater to this. On the other hand, the hyper-stimulated individuals are cared for in the New York location. The building's subterranean design acts as a haven for these people. Their families are close by, and they live in a building where the sensory overload is not an issue. Furthermore, the threshold between the residence and the city allows for these individuals to explore the greater Tribeca if they so choose. They are not isolated from their friends and family, or the beautiful city of New York.

Historic Vs. Present Zones in  Lower Manhattan

Commercial, Business vs. Mixed Use Zones in Lower Manhattan

Metro, Highway vs. Ferry Transportation in Lower Manhattan

Green= Tribeca

Black= Manhattan 

Blue= Hudson and East Rivers