In December 2015, Níall McLaughlin Architects and Yeoryia Manolopoulou contacted us to design the website for the Irish pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016, attempting to understand and improve the spatial experience of dementia sufferers.
Under the title Losing Myself, we were given a brief to develop an online platform to collect, archive and present research material that emerges during the architectural design and research process around the topic of dementia. This may take the form of text, video and audio files, and is to be divided into the respective categories. The target audience of the website was to be architecture professionals as well as people interested in the topic of dementia for other reasons, or – albeit to a smaller proportion – patients affected by dementia themselves. We therefore focused on developing a website equally accessible to users with widely differing levels of familiarity with the use of computers.
In a peculiar way, working for the Venice Biennale carries an obligation to the new. In this case the challenge lied in the tension between a conceptual acknowledgement of the workings of the mind of a dementia sufferer – negotiating the world relying on temporal and spatial fragments his or her mind randomly happens to make available – and facilitating the navigation of the site as far as ever possible.
During our design development, we had the chance to meet neuroscientist and dementia specialist Sebastian Crutch from UCL. In the course of our conversation, it became clear that there was no ‘one size fits all’ approach to create a dementia friendly site, as symptoms vary widely. However, we encountered an objective that seemed worth pursuing when enquiring about the social implications that accompany the condition. As the condition progresses, people with dementia may lose the ability to participate in tasks that others in society take for granted. This can lead to frustration, all too often accompanied by an auto-imposed avoidance strategy, resulting from a fear of failure and further intimidation. This can lead people with dementia to retreat from public life and become socially isolated, which further reinforces their fear.
Therefore, the design of this website represents an attempt to create a space where each move, or click, yields a positive result. We tried to develop a site which maximises ease of use, and simultaneously minimises the possibility of error. Navigation to the categories is invited via a number of icons that should suggest their significants through long term memory references. For those to whom categories as such already induce an intimidating prospect of failure, we have included a browsing mode, called ‘everything’, displaying a random selection of entries with no underlying structure that needs to be grasped. For further accessibility the text is set in a moderately increased font size, and the colour ways provide a contrast that is slightly lower than black on white. In case of clicking on a dead link (Error 404) the user is redirected to the homepage, no error page is displayed.
As such we hope to provide a space to the design team working on the Irish pavilion that allows them to reach the wide variety of their envisaged audience, a ‘error-free’ space that can be navigated both by proficient internet users, as well as by the fragmented minds affected by dementia, which are so hard for us to understand.
by Marco and Axel
This project has not been concluded. We will continue to test the site with dementia sufferers and make improvements during the Biennale and beyond. In such a first test, carried out in February at UCL with one patient and her carer, the only major difficulty the lady encountered was to read out the names of Níall McLaughlin and Yeoryia Manolopoulou. How could you blame her for this?
objectif is a collaborative design practice based in London, founded by Axel Feldmann and Luisa Hay in 2004. We work at the conjunction of editorial design and its transposition into the architectural realm, specialising in the fields of exhibition design, visitor experience and narrative environments as well as classic book design. Our clients are from a variety of disciplines, with a focus on cultural players, education, architecture and fine art.
We develop graphic and environmental design concepts that are the result of a critical assessment of the content, with the aim of emancipating small-scale businesses, artistic practices and the wider public in the light of an increasingly instrumentalised and commodified cultural and public realm.
Axel has given numerous workshops both in the UK and in his native Germany.
objectif is part of the Greater London Authority’s Design Framework, and a member of its Specialist Advice Team in relation to graphic design within the public realm.
(BA Graphic Design, Germany;
MA Philosophy and Contemporary Critical Theory, London)
(MA Translation Studies, London)
(BA Visual Communication, Italy;
MA Design, Amsterdam)
The Design Museum
Science Museum London
United States / Middle East Project
British Council, Literature
London Borough of Barnet
Verlag Silke Schreiber
Bartlett School of Architecture
Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen IfA
London Borough of Bromley
London Borough of Lewisham
London Borough of Waltham Forest
Greater London Authority
London Borough of Havering
London Borough of Enfield
Hampton Court Palace
London Borough of Redbridge
Design for London
Technische Universität Berlin
British Council, Architecture Design Fashion
London Borough of Tower Hamlets
London Development Agency
Villa Romana, Florence
The Women’s Library
London Metropolitan University
Swale Borough Council
J & L Gibbons
Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg
London Borough of Hackney
Tower of London
West Ham and Plaistow NDC
Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst
The Architecture Foundation
Apollonia – échanges artistiques européens
AOC, Architecture, London
CarverHaggard, Architecture, London
muf architecture/art, London
Veronika De Haas, Büro Otto Sauhaus, Berlin
Oliver Klimpel, Büro International, London and Berlin
Wolfram Wiedner, London
We Made That, Architecture, London
Web development: Queo.pt
Typeface: Merkury, by Radim Peško