Experiential Knowledge









Designing “little worlds” in Walnut Park: How architects adopted an ethnographic case study on living with dementia  

Valerie Van der Linden(1), Iris Van Steenwinkel(1), Hua Dong(2), Ann Heylighen(1)

University of Leuven (2), Tongji University, University of Leuven


Keywords: architectural design; dementia; ethnographic case study; knowledge


Understanding future users is recognised to be essential in design, yet also challenging. Often architects have no direct access to the experiences of others, like people with dementia. Case studies have been suggested as an adequate format to inform designers. This paper investigates the role of an ethnographic case study about a person living with dementia, as provided to an architectural firm designing a residential care facility. Interviews with the architects and an analysis of design materials reveal how they incorporated the case study in their ongoing design. Results indicate that the case study offered insight into users’ daily life and facilitated architects’ concept development. Architects’ resulting concept proved valuable to frame design decisions, while its visualisation played a significant role in internal and external communication. The study contributes to untangling important aspects in informing architects about future users and raises questions regarding researchers’ and designers’ roles in transferring knowledge. 

This paper is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence.

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Cite this paper: Van der Linden, V., Van Steenwinkel, I., Dong, H., Heylighen, A. (2016). Designing “little worlds” in Walnut Park: How architects adopted an ethnographic case study on living with dementia. Proceedings of DRS 2016, Design Research Society 50th Anniversary Conference. Brighton, UK, 27–30 June 2016.

This paper will be presented at DRS2016, find it in the conference programme

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