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Nurturing autistic children, 'One of the Kids' in Austin adopts natural design as therapy

The clinic and therapy centre designed by Runa Workshop provides a natural, sensory atmosphere for special children to wander and grow.

by STIRworldPublished on : Aug 17, 2020

Texas-based design firm Runa Workshop has recently completed ‘One of the Kids’, a campus project for children with Autism. The special campus located north of Austin, Texas, has been designed to provide autistic children and their families with a comfortable refuge to seek therapy and enjoy community activities. Keeping the key aspects of honour and care in mind through minimal and thoughtful design techniques, the team at Runa Workshop has attempted to celebrate the unique ways in which each child learns to playfully navigate through life.

Designing for children with autism required a sensitised approach and the team researched and educated themselves on the needs of special children to carefully cater to them through the design environment. “We believe in designing for all and designing for a cause. The campus has been conceived as a safe haven where ‘kids can be kids’, to further encourage them to grow through learning, playing and creating,” shares the team at Runa Workshop. Sensory well-being dominates all design strategies, owing to autistic children's hyper-awareness to sensory stimuli. Through the use of biophilic design methods that brought in strong connections to nature, the campus encourages children to explore their surroundings without feeling overwhelmed.

Soothing interiors and activity spaces maintain a calm atmosphere | One of the Kids | Runa Workshop | STIRworld
Soothing interiors and activity spaces create a calm atmosphere Image: Dror Baldinger AIA

The design was significantly influenced by the aspects of nature’s healing abilities. The amount of natural light in each therapy room was maximised and views of green spaces were accentuated to further flow into the indoors. The campus design carefully customised spaces for children with special needs with a large, well-lit space allowing interaction with water and grass. These have been specifically designed to let children channel their energy constructively, and to enable them to focus better in their therapy sessions.

Well-lit spaces and natural materials define the campus | One of the Kids | Runa Workshop | STIRworld
Well-lit spaces and natural materials define the campus Image: Dror Baldinger AIA

A tight budget played a positive catalyst in creatively designing the place, resulting in strategic planning and cautious material selection. Cost-effective materials such as highly texture-oriented strand boards allowed Runa Workshop to stay within budget while reinforcing the connection with nature and staying true to the design intent. Other elements such as a turf in the indoor play area and a painted green ‘mountain range’ that wanders through the corridors, serve as visual cues for moments of refuge and delight.

Private ‘treehouses’ for children to relax in | One of the Kids | Runa Workshop | STIRworld
Private ‘treehouses’ for children to relax in Image: Dror Baldinger AIA

Small nooks that symbolise personal treehouses give children private spaces to interact in, and a soothing ‘chill room’ with low lighting, dark-coloured walls and window shades offers a calm atmosphere for the kids when they may feel overwhelmed. A large indoor-outdoor play area and an indoor swimming pool have been designed to further strengthen children’s social skills and promote the campus’ underlying principle; autonomy through discovery.

A painted “mountain range” wanders through the corridors | One of the Kids | Runa Workshop | STIRworld
A painted “mountain range” wanders through the corridors Image: Dror Baldinger AIA

‘One of the Kids’, true to its name, provides for the specific needs of children with autism while making them feel inclusive and loved by promoting safety and wellbeing, and nurturing inspiration and confidence.

Project Details

Name of project: One of the Kids
Location: Austin, USA
Design: Runa Workshop
Completion date: 2020

(Text by Ankitha Gattupalli, intern at

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