Hazelwood School for the Multiple Sensory Impaired

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Hazelwood School for the Multiple Sensory Impaired
Hazelwood School, situated within suburbs to the south of Glasgow, is a bespoke learning centre for children and young people with multiple physical or mental impairments.

The school caters for 60 students with multiple disabilities, aged from 2 to 19. Each student has a combination of two or more of the following impairments: visual impairment, hearing impairment, mobility or cognitive impairment.

Aiming to enhance students’ school experience and develop their independence through a highly individualised, multi-sensory curriculum, Hazelwood School demanded a complex and intricate brief, with even the smallest feature of the building conceived as a learning aid.

The building snakes around mature lime trees, which surround the site, nestling to the one side of an adjacent large public park. Classrooms lay along the northern quiet, edge of the site, overlooking verdant play spaces. The external envelope of the school steps and curves to create a series of safe and stimulating landscaped teaching gardens.

These outside spaces are integral to the teaching practice of the school. It is vital that the children have an accessible external environment, which allows them to breath fresh air, to hear the wind rustling the trees and to feel the rain. These sensory experiences whilst taken for granted by many, form a critical part of a Hazelwood pupil’s education.

High level clerestory glazing forms a substantial part of the façade of the north-facing classrooms, allowing for maximum daylight to penetrate deep into the spaces and ensuring even distribution of light. Storage boxes, two and a half metres tall, create a solid wall below the clearstory glazing; this reduces external visual distraction, highlighted by teaching staff as a significant cause of loss of concentration levels in some visually impaired students.

The ability to use toilet facilities un-aided offers great independence to the pupils. The location, type, size and fittings of the sanitary facilities have been carefully selected to help educated the students in the variety of toilet types they are likely to come into contact with.

Ease of orientation within the school is essential to support each child’s developing independence. In response to this, the sensory wall was developed in the circulation ‘street’ as a navigational tool that would allow the children to move around the school safely.

The large sculptural units that make up the sensory wall also act as storage units in which mobility-training equipment is kept. The wall is clad in cork, which has a warm tactile quality and provides signifiers along the route to confirm the children’s location within the school. Each one of the external materials was selected for their sensory qualities. The natural larch weatherboarding develops a strong grain when exposed to the elements, offering a gently rippled tactile quality for ‘trailing’ (navigation using the sense of touch). Roofing slate hung vertically as cladding has been used to contrast with the timber boarding. Noticeably harder to the touch, the slate walls define external spaces and have the advantage on the south elevations of being a strong heat source, providing another navigation tool for students.

To define Hazelwood School simply as a centre for learning limits the opportunities that it offers its students. It is much more than a series of simple teaching spaces - it offers the keys to an independent way of life so elusive to multiple sensory or cognitively impaired individuals.

"One young person, the most cognitively challenged person I've ever met, can now eat and go to the toilet by himself. For the rest of his life his dignity will be maintained.” Jane Eyre, Depute Head, Hazelwood School.

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