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New Sensory-Friendly Room Designed by HDG is Unveiled at Pittsburgh International Airport

July 26, 2019

A new space for travelers with special needs opened Tuesday at the Pittsburgh International Airport. Presley’s Place, named after the son of airport heavy equipment operator Jason Rudge, who pitched the idea to Pittsburgh International Airport CEO Christina Cassotis through an employee suggestion box, is a 1,500 sq. ft. sensory space that serves as a calming respite for travelers with sensory processing issues and their families to de-stress while traveling.

“We want to make flying accessible to everyone. This room is an opportunity for special needs travelers from children to adults to have a place to decompress and get prepared to fly,” Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis said in a news release.

More and more of these quiet rooms for individuals with autism and other sensory-processing issues are becoming common across the country (and the world), and the trend is praised by various autism advocacy groups and the overall community. But, the difference is Pittsburgh International’s particular space isn’t just a room, it’s an entire sensory-friendly experience, even being referred to by the airport as “one of the world’s largest airport sensory spaces”.

The initial suggestion by an airport employee whose son has autism inspired what became a team effort to see the idea through to fruition, and to see it done the right way. Early on, Hayes Design Group Architects (HDG) was hired to work with the Allegheny County Airport Authority’s interdepartmental team at Pittsburgh International and the Autism Connection of Pennsylvania to gather input from advocacy groups, individuals and caregivers of those with neurodevelopmental challenges, all of which was then carefully integrated into HDG’s design for the project, through a number of special and custom-made features to meet sensory needs of both children and adults.

These unique features include a variety of tactile, touchable surfaces; cloud panels to soften the adjustable, overhead lighting throughout the rooms; soundproofing in the doors, walls, and ceilings; use of sustainable, odor-free materials; incorporation of the smaller rooms for silence or privacy, calming sounds and visual stimulation, numerous custom-built features such as benches that feature bubble tubes and fiberoptic-lit “tunnels”, all with soft or curved surfaces, and a sensory-friendly bathroom with both a height-adjustable sink and adult changing table.

Pittsburgh’s sensory room also has one very unique room, created with help from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, American Airlines, Magee Plastics, and XYZ Custom: A real-life airplane exhibit where you can experience what it’s like to board an actual airplane, before you do just that!

“I was amazed at the thought and care that went into the creation of Presley’s Place. It truly sets our airport apart and reflects the best of Pittsburgh,” said Dr. Wendy Pardee, President and CEO of The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh, the leader in innovative and integrated health care, education, and social services for children and youth with special health care needs.

Then, once design was complete for the project, the Airport Authority’s in-house build team of more than three dozen talented tradespeople brought the design to life over just six months, constructing the room with great care and precision, right down to the smallest, most important detail. “The Airport Authority’s build team brought the highest levels of craftsmanship and attention to detail in executing the project. We were very impressed by their commitment to seeing that every feature was completed so as to best serve the intended users,” said Jennifer Beck, AIA, Project Architect for the sensory room project from HDG.

“The success of this project is due in no small part to the strong leadership of the Airport Authority’s interdepartmental planning committee, led by Logan Williams, organizational development manager for the project,” said Beck. “The committee brought together all of the right stakeholders to make this project happen. Having HDG participate in site selection and focus group research at the outset of the project led to well-informed design decisions for the layout of the different rooms, material and color selection, acoustic detailing, and the development of custom solutions such as the bubble tube and fiberoptic tunnel benches.”

Luciana Randall, Executive Director of the Autism Connection of Pennsylvania had this to say about the project, “Pittsburgh International and Hayes Design Group Architects began with asking us for help, then listening to autism families and adults. We were thrilled to see the amazing outcome of a project started 18 months ago. We believe in belonging beyond acceptance, and this room means that people with autism belong in air travel.”

Update:  HDG’s design of Presley’s Place received the 2019 AIA Pittsburgh People’s Choice Award and a 2019 Community Partner Award from the Autism Connection of Pennsylvania for excellence in collaboration with the autism community on the project!

Presley’s Place is a quiet, sensory friendly space that provides an environment and equipment to help travelers with neurodevelopmental challenges.


For additional coverage in the news about this exciting project and some videos of the space, see below:’

Media contact: Sheena Sundin, CPSM – Marketing Manager at

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