Ottawa architect leads team to win international cerebral palsy Sponge House competition


A design team led by Ottawa architect Sonia Zouari has won an international competition to design an ideal living environment for individuals with cerebral palsy (CP).

The Sponge House competition pitted contestants from around the globe, with a grand prize of US $5,000 for the winning team.

Zouari, an architect with CSV Architects, teamed up with Yomna Anani of Parkin Architects, Sam Milne and Ally Darling from HOK interior design department and Carolyn Andrews, a masters’ degree student at the University of Calgary and also an architectural assistant at CSV Architects, to create a living space that is safe, comfortable and uplifting for children with cerebral palsy. The design team illustrated a concept design which responded to the following objectives:

  • Social Integration
  • Pain, bump and bruise free
  • Optimize dependence, foster autonomy
  • Natural Healing Finishes
  • Generous space beyond the accommodation of mobility equipment
  • Engage positively with movement, celebrate bravery
  • Hand in hand design and technology
  • Obstacles sensed via different sensory channels
  • Uplifting universal design
  • Strengthen the ecosphere of kindness
  • Embrace the diversity of families

All this “wrapped in an aesthetically-pleasing living environment.”

They named their team A.B.L.E. Access a Better Living Environment. They proposed a virtual renovation of a typical Canadian bungalow residence, “stripping out the partitions and cabinetry to create flexibility in sizes and functions.”

The competition is linked with World Cerebral Palsy (CP) Day on Oct. 7, 2015.

CP is a physical disability that affects movement. People with CP can have unsteady balance, difficulty controlling fine motor movements, and often suffer bruises and other injuries when they accidentally bump furniture, walls and or fall onto the floor.

“The competition was designed to challenge architects and designers to think beyond wheelchair accessibility standards and design a living space, furniture and furnishings, fixtures and fittings, appliances and or lighting to accommodate the needs of the large number of people with CP who are ambulatory, as well as those who may use a mobility aid,” the World CP Day website reported.

Judges were enthusiastic about the Zouari team’s submission.

“The ‘A.B.L.E.’ project submission is an ambitious redesign of an existing Canadian home responding to the competition brief through a range of media,” said the award citation. “The project appears well-researched, and considers a broad range of issues – environmental, cultural, and emotional – and uses these as points of departure for several features proposed in the home. In particular, the response to multiple sensory experiences in the design (from smell to sight) is noteworthy, and the tactile materiality of the proposal is playful but has a sense of realism.”

“It is refreshing to see a proposal that uses an existing building to work from rather than a blank canvas new build, albeit the extent of the proposed work is quite large and potentially quite costly and exclusive. The presentation is a nice mix of video, rendered images, sketches, and precedent images, and the accompanying text reads well, expressing the high ambitions of the project. Overall, a broad-ranging set of issues are considered in different ways in the proposal – through text and/or design, and the result is a colourful home where the passion of the team has come through.”

Zouari, who is also the chair of the Ottawa Construction Specifications Canada (CSC) chapter, says the prize money will be donated to implement some of the winning ideas with local disability support organizations.


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