A blog about universal and accessible design

Monday, October 27, 2008

architects riffing on ramps and etc

Image: Entrance to the Rotterdam Kunsthal, designed by Rem Koolhass' OMA: a gently sloping floor enclosed in walls of glass, with massive dark cement columns. A small ramp to the left leads up to a sign reading "entree."

A friend started this thread at Archinect asking about interesting examples of Universal (specifically wheelchair/walking accessible) spaces, sparking a wide-ranging discussion of what architects can, should, and do design for accessibility and inclusion. My quick observation-- some of the contributors to this discussion are quick to shut down the conversation with comments like "what would be the point" of designing a ramped area/space in a building that is not ADA compliant, or, alternatively, that buildings should not be the target of new design but that better wheelchairs and, indeed, re-engineered bodies should be the way to go. It strikes me that pointing away from the design problem is always an easy way to wriggle out of it. Yes, the ADA like all building codes can be shortsighted, but what does that mean-- keep addressing accessibility just as code and not as a real functional or formal issue in a building? Generally speaking, creative experiments may have gotten us all into a lot of messes but I still think it's worth it. I used the example of the Guggenheim in my post on the idea of a "world without stairs" knowing that Frank Lloyd Wright did not design its interior ramp with wheelchairs in mind-- but to show that the unintended consequences of design decisions can be delightful as well as disruptive (as in the case of the zillions of buildings/landscapes/products designed without thought of what they require of the body).

This thread also makes me more sensitive to the obstacles architects face to innovation, given that they have no more severe critics than their colleagues. And yet.. does all the criticism produce better architecture?

(side note-- Susan, if you are reading this, I can't comment on Archinect without being a member, but you might be interested in a few posts on Wheelchair Dancer's blog about her and her partner's and their architects' design process for ramps inside their house: for example 1 2 3.)


Unknown said...

Would you consider mentioning my newly-published memoir on your blog? I would be happy to exchange blog feeds as well.

Seven Wheelchairs: A Life beyond Polio was recently released by The University of Iowa Press.

The memoir is a history -- an American tale -- of my fifty year wheelchair journey after being struck by both bulbar and lumbar poliomyelitis after a vaccine accident in 1959. The Press says Seven Wheelchairs gives "readers the unromantic truth about life in a wheelchair, he escapes stereotypes about people with disabilities and moves toward a place where every individual is irreplaceable."

Other reviewers have called Seven Wheelchairs "sardonic and blunt," "a compelling account," and "powerful and poetic."

I hope you can mention Seven Wheelchairs on your blog. We all live different disability stories, I know, but perhaps if you find the memoir worthwhile, you might want to recommend the book to others who are curious about what polio or disability in general.

Of course, the book is also available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Gary Presley www.garypresley.com
SEVEN WHEELCHAIRS: A Life beyond Polio
Fall 2008 University of Iowa Press

Bess said...

Gary, my blog is not read by many people but I would like to write a post at some point about memoirs, so will keep yours in mind too.

fleur de gris said...

i'd counter, bess, that almost everyone is a more severe critique than architects' colleagues, but that each have their own primary concerns and agendas - very seldom understanding the huge number of stakeholders that might have an interest in a given project.

ada has been a huge action because it has given architects the authority (basically) to say that accessibility is necessary. without it, we had very little leverage to be innovative with accessible solutions. believe it or not, a lot of clients still 'allow' it begrudgingly.

universal design has become a focus for a lot of the work i pursue and, as i note in the archinect discussion, architects wanting to believe that their buildings provide some sort of beautiful positive experience but don't recognize that that MUST mean universal design are blindered.

thanks for your blog. i've been enjoying it.

steven ward

Bess said...

steven-- thanks for your comments. It's interesting that you say that ADA gives architects leverage w/ clients-- that makes sense. So often I hear the reverse-- that it makes architects "tack on" accessibility rather than integrate it because there are so many rules involved. I think it may be a question of scale-- do you get to make an ideal Universal Design project for one or two clients, or ADA-compliant for all of them. Thanks for reading!