At the second annual special event held at the Palace of Westminster on April 18th, MnM Studio Architects, along with Maria Brighenti and Marcello D’Orsi, were announced the joint winners of the 2017/18 Bespoke Access Awards, a design competition to create accessible solutions, run in association with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and featuring a prize fund of £30,000.
MnM Studio devised an innovative accommodation solution based around the four senses of smell, taste, sound and sight, with extensive use of Braille throughout. Termed “empathy through aesthetics”, the system aims to support the emotional state of the guest, while maintaining a distinct visual appeal via a stylish, curved design.
“’Empathy through aesthetics’ perfectly encapsulates what we are aiming to do with the Access initiative”, commented Baroness Celia Thomas, Chair of the Judging Panel and Patron of the Awards. “The emphasis placed on the emotional state of the guest was particularly impressive, given this is an area that is often overlooked.”
Alongside MnM Studio, freelance Italian architects Maria Brightei and Marcello D’Orsi were successful in the Architectural category, as well as being announced joint winners of the overall Celia Thomas Prize, worth a total of £20,000. Their design, which focused on the means through which existing accommodation can be renovated with the disabled traveler in mind, concentrated on the public spaces of hotels, and how subtle enhancements can be made to significantly increase the ease with which they are passed through.
“I was particularly struck by the attention they had paid to the customer journey through reception and the lobby areas”, commented Alan Stanton, Stirling Prize-winning architect and member of the Judging Panel. “These are areas often overlooked by both architects and business owners alike, and it is easy to think of them as merely transient. But they can significantly improve or disrupt a guest’s experience, so it was exciting to see them highlighted and approached with such care.”
"The architectural community across the country has really embraced the Access Awards since their launch in 2016", added Jane Duncan, RIBA Immediate Past President. "It is tremendously encouraging for the future of accessible tourism to see this year's awards attracting interest from around the world, as well as ideas shining a light on some of the more often-overlooked aspects of disabled travel."
The competition attracted submissions spanning the length and breadth of the UK, as well as from across Europe and Asia. Entrants competed across an expanded range of categories, including Product Design, Architecture, Service Applications (Digital) and Service Applications (Training). Alongside the overall Celia Thomas Prize, worth £20,000 and believed to be the largest cash prize in the UK for a design concept.
“We were extremely pleased to see the competition attracting a truly global roster of entrants this year”, said Robin Sheppard, Chairman of Bespoke Hotels and recently appointed Hotel Sector Champion for Disabled People. “The Access Awards continue to grow and evolve, but the high quality of entries ensures our collective focus remains on improving the experience for all hotel guests, whether disabled or otherwise.”
The entries were judged at the turn of the year by a panel which included Paralympic gold medalist Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Stirling Prize-winning architect Alan Stanton, Baroness Celia Thomas, Tom Perry, Head of the Cities Programme at the Design Council, Graeme Whippy, Disability Specialist for Channel Four, Alastair Hignell CBE, alongside Robin Sheppard.