Archive for the 'Inclusive Design' Category


Venturi, Scott Brown, and the Future of Architecture

Sendai Mediatheque

At Archinect, Steven Song examines the ideas of Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi, as set forth in their book Architecture as Signs and Systems: for a Mannerist Time. Here it is in a nutshell, Song’s summation of what these two enormously influential writers are saying.

The book revisits the architectural duality of ‘signage’ and ‘shelter’, introduces the concept of superimposed activity patterns as a design tool for deriving physical form from social conditions, advocates a reassessment of our ideas of context in architecture, and discusses the relationship between form and functional flexibility, ultimately advocating rule-bending mannerist architecture for today’s post-industrial Information Age.

That’s a tall order. But first, what is mannerist architecture, and what rules does it want to bend? The answer is, any rules that don’t address the needs of the particular instance at hand, which are likely to be many and varied. “Function”, for a building, needs to mean a lot of different things, and some of them are mutually exclusive. Increasingly, the needs for inclusive and sustainable design are part of the whole. Sometimes it’s impossible to follow all the rules of every system involved, because of the overlapping, superimposed way they are. And the mannerist approach is to figure out which are the best rules to break, for the good of the whole.

Song discusses the two major roles of architecture, as defined by Scott Brown and Venturi: architecture as shelter, and architecture as signage. Signage doesn’t only mean advertising, but has to do with communication, decoration, information, and symbolism. Put them all together, and you have a “decorated shed,” a phrase which they coined.

Contemporary society has a lot of blurred boundaries, many of them obliterated by modern communication devices that erase the distinction between public and private space. People can act like they’re in public (for instance, go shopping) when actually occupying a very private space (a bedroom with a computer in it). Our cities are replete with people walking around talking to themselves because they are schizophrenics, and with people walking around talking to themselves, but not really, because they’re attached to some kind of electronic gadget with a human, or at least a machine, at the other end. The first group would be locked up if there were anyplace to put them – because it’s considered insane to talk, for instance, to a deity that, being all-powerful, presumably doesn’t even need gadgets. The second group is considered normal.

What does this mean? What does it mean for cities, and for architects? Since we can now do so much from so far away, why do urban centers survive? Because people like one-on-one transactions with those they must trust, and enjoy seeing interesting strangers, and welcome the possibility of chance meetings with friends. Urban centers will continue to not only survive, but grow. Real estate prices will keep going up as land becomes more scare and sought-after. As a result, architecture needs to be more flexible. Adaptive reuse needs to mean something more than changing a building from one type of structure into another. It needs to mean that a space can serve several purposes within one week, being adaptable at short notice and able to change back again. “Wiggle room” is the answer, and the authors give the industrial loft and the Italian palazzo as examples of flexible space. Others that come to mind are the church parish hall and the hotel ballroom. There follows some discussion of flexibility, derived from the ideas of Kevin Lynch.

Another example they offer is the hotel whose lobby seating area serves the welcome desk during the day, and the bar at night — it’s multi-use, but nothing needs to be physically moved. The tradeoff between flexibility, and the drudgery of moving partitions around, is one of the arguments against flexible space. Also there’s a philosophical argument: If it can be anything, then it’s nothing.

Pictured above is the Sendai Mediatheque, designed by Toyo Ito, whose reductive analysis of architecture finds only three elements: plate, tube, and skin. Another school of thought sees four elements : floor, column, wall, and window. Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi are looking for more.

SOURCE: “Shifting Paradigms Part 1 | Renovating the Decorated Shed” 05/15/08
photo courtesy of yusunkwon , used under this Creative Commons license


City of the Future: Poundbury

Poundbury, U.K.

Sometimes it’s good to step back from the daily demands of work and contemplate the larger questions, like, “What’s it all about?” Philosopher and professor Roger Scruton does this in “Cities for Living,” where he examines the thoughts and creations of anti-modernist architect Léon Krier, as manifested in the model city called Poundbury.

American cities are pretty much a mess, with the rest of the world not far behind. Nowhere has the principle of unintended consequences shown up more clearly than in wrong-headed urban renewal projects. Back in 1998, Krier published Architecture: Choice or Fate, which, though badly received in some circles, seems to have started a movement, with converts on both sides of the Atlantic. Every day there are more New Urbanists, and Scruton lays out one of their tenets:

The confluence of strangers in a single place and under a single law, there to live peacefully side by side, joined by social networks, economic cooperation, and friendly competition through sports and festivals, is among the most remarkable achievements of our species, responsible for most of the great cultural, political, and religious innovations of our civilization.

Krier believes that the rest of the world could learn a lot from the oldest and largest Continental capitals. He is a polycentrist, advocating the supremacy of 5 cities of 10,000 inhabitants each, over one city with 50,000. He is very much against the airport as we have come to know it, and he’s against the hermetically sealed building, which adversely impacts the health of everyone in it. He regrets that most planners want to create glitzy, exceptional buildings, rather than “normal, regular and inevitable” ones.

When it comes to height, he thinks five stories are enough. A good building has some kind of relationship to the buildings around it, rather than sticking out like a sore thumb. It occupies, as should all buildings, a street that can be lived in by humans, where everything they need is no farther away than a ten-minute walk. A good building’s maintenance is economically feasible. Should the need arise for adaptive reuse, a building is, ideally, transformable.

Krier vigorously opposes the “curtain-wall idiom,” which he sees as the worst aspect of modernism. Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition defines a curtain wall as

…virtually any enclosure system supported by the building frame, as opposed to masonry or other bearing walls. A modern curtain wall is most typically thought of as a metal frame, usually aluminum, with large areas of glass.

In its chapter on Exterior Enclosures, AGS describes the various kinds of testing to which a proposed curtain wall must or can be subjected. These include structural capacity, air infiltration, water leakage, thermal performance, acoustic isolation, blast resistance, and forced-entry resistance. Here is Krier on the subject:

Buildings constructed in this way are both expensive to maintain and of uncertain durability; they use materials that no one fully understands, which have a coefficient of expansion so large that all joints loosen within a few years, and which involve massive environmental damage in their production and in their inevitable disposal within a few decades… Even if the curtain is shaped like a classical facade, it is a pretend facade, with only a blank expression. Usually, however, it is a sheet of glass or concrete panels, without intelligible apertures.

Kreir is, by all reports, articulate without being adversarial. A warm and positive kind of guy, he doesn’t waste time vilifying things he doesn’t like, but concentrates on making the world work for everybody. The worst he’ll say about modernism, apparently, is that it’s an error, one that is compounded by our error in thinking it’s inevitable. Although very unhappy about housing projects, business parks, and other relatively recent wrong answers, he doesn’t think it’s too late for some real, viable solutions.

The secret of his charm is that, like all the best teachers and leaders, he convinces his listeners that he is not informing them of outlandish newfangled ideas, but merely reminding them of profound truths of which they are already aware. Probably the most fervent fan of Krier’s worldview is the Prince of Wales, a.k.a. Prince Charles, who initiated the project of designing a whole new English town adjacent to, but not a suburb of, the city of Dorchester.

So: is Poundbury the city of the future?

SOURCE: ” Cities for Living ” 2008
photo courtesy of MarilynJane , used under this Creative Commons license


The Center for Universal Design and Its Principles

Neurosciences Institute

It’s still May, Older Americans’ Month, so let’s look at the seminal document from which such notions as transgenerational design, and the awareness of issues that enable “Aging in Place,” were derived. North Carolina State University is the home of the Center for Universal Design, whose principles are laid out on its website. The people who created the list are, alphabetically, Bettye Rose Connell, Mike Jones, Ron Mace, Jim Mueller, Abir Mullick, Elaine Ostroff, Jon Sanford, Ed Steinfeld, Molly Story, & Gregg Vanderheiden, who say:

These Principles of Universal Design: address only universally usable design, while the practice of design involves more than consideration for usability. Designers must also incorporate other considerations such as economic, engineering, cultural, gender, and environmental concerns in their design processes. [The Principles] offer designers guidance to better integrate features that meet the needs of as many users as possible. All Guidelines may not be relevant to all designs.

Equitable use is the first of the seven principles given here, meaning a commitment to providing equivalent, if not identical, means of use for all users. The second principle is flexibility in use – in other words, accommodating to the user’s pace, handedness, strength, and other individual characteristics. The third principle asks that use be simple and intuitive, understandable by non-native speakers, or by someone whose concentration is impaired, such as a hospital patient in pain.

Principle four addresses the perceptibility of information, that it be legible to the user in various modes, like Braille signage in an elevator. The fifth principle advocates tolerance for error, or what in the vernacular would be called “idiot-proofing,” and also has to do with matters like keeping the user safe. The sixth principle wants the user’s interaction with the object to be ergonomically sound – for instance, it should not require a contorted body posture, or any more repetitive motion than is strictly necessary. Principle seven has to do with providing the necessary space for approach and manipulation of the element – the most ready example that comes to mind is the toilet enclosure with enough room for a wheelchair or an assisting person to maneuver.

Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition, offers a lavishly illustrated and detailed chapter on Inclusive Design. The chapter quotes architect Ron Mace, founder of the Center for Universal Design, on the definition of the term as

The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

Among many other exemplary projects, AGS-11 gives details of the design strategy used for the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla (pictured above). We learn that “[a]s a matter of ‘ethics and aesthetics,’ the architects have seamlessly integrated universal access into a tectonic essay on movement, creating an ever-changing spatial experience.”

The Universal Design Resource List includes much information on universal design, particularly design for aging. Another useful thing to know about is, of course, the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards. Whether we are professionals or laypersons, sooner or later we will all be end-users of this technology, so it’s definitely a subject area with a large and ever-growing constituency.

SOURCE: ” Universal Design Principles ” 04/01/97
photo courtesy of cudmore, used under this Creative Commons license


Inclusive Design Philosophy Shaped by Experience of Practitioners

Accessible Design

The whole month of May, Older Americans Month, is not long enough to contemplate all the facets of inclusive design. “Aging in place” is only a part of the overall concept of accessibility or universality. Often the needs of different groups overlap, and one of the interesting things about the field is how many professionals within it were inspired by their own struggle with disability. Take, for instance, Philadelphia real estate agent Valarie Costanzo, recently profiled by Janet Pinkerton, who says:

Costanzo, 57, began concentrating on the accessibility niche after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis two years ago. She began helping MS Society clients in search of affordable handicapped-modified housing. Searching listings for homes with ramps, enlarged doors, and bathrooms with walk-in tubs or roll-in showers, Costanzo realized: “A lot of this stuff also applies to baby boomers with bad knees, bad backs, etc.

Concentrating on accessibility and usability, Costanzo searches out homes and apartments where people with restricted abilities, whether caused by age, injury, or a medical condition, can live in independence and comfort. The overwhelming majority of older Americans want to remain in their own homes for the duration of their lives, and they look for things like an absence of stairs, wide doorways, reachable electric outlets, and so on, through a long list of helpful features.

Pinkerton also spoke with architect Rene Hoffman, who notes that even young home-building clients are likely to have parents either visiting or living with them. One of the ideas suggested by this forward-looking designer is the elevator shaft that can be used as storage space for many years, until such time as stair-free access to the second floor is needed.

Seattle architect Karen L. Braitmayer is another of the many individuals who became intensely interested in universal design principles because of her own physical limitations. Confined to a wheelchair because of osteogenesis imperfecta, Braitmayer became a nationally prominent consultant in accessible design and one of the technical advisers whose knowledge helped shape Washington State’s building code to the barrier-free standard.

In Florida, Walter Dutcher, who sustained an injury fifty years ago that left him quadriplegic, helped design the Freedom Home, which has been called America’s first affordable fully-accessible home. A very pragmatic element of Dutcher’s philosophy is that undertaking the renovation of a standard house can cost several times as much as building it according to accessible design principles, from the outset. He is also quoted as saying, “The devil is in the details.”

SOURCE: “Preparing a Home for Golden Years” 05/08/08
photo courtesy of peterme, used under this Creative Commons license


Aging in Place Vital for Peace of Mind


We’re still in May, Older Americans’ Month, and a recent article by Jerry Rouleau and Scott Stroud explores a concept that’s very important to us for that reason. They interview Tracy DeCarlo, of the consulting firm Detailed Solutions, Inc., who has written several books on maximum usability in a home. DeCarlo’s slogan is “Sales Follow Function.”

This concept includes and is known by several different terms, but whether you call it accessibility, inclusive design, universal design, or transgenerational design, a set of expectations exists that make possible the comfort and reassurance of aging in place. Something like 4/5ths of American senior citizens have absolutely no desire to leave their homes to live in institutions. They want to stay where they are, and architects and builders are lining up to help them do it. This article covers six of DeCarlo’s more than two hundred tips. For example, the authors describe their expert’s take on the full-function laundry room, something DeCarlo has seen done wrong in multi-million dollar houses:

There is no industry standard as to whether the washer goes to the left or the right of the dryer. If you purchase a washer and dryer as a set, they are set up so that the doors open opposing each other, making it easy to transfer laundry. But… the existing plumbing often forces a homeowner to switch the set around, forcing both the washer and dryer doors to open into each other. Since the doors are rarely reversible, this turns a common task into an uncomfortable burden.

A built-in ironing board is all well and good, DeCarlo says, but it’s an excellent idea to find out if the client is left-handed, before installing a feature oriented toward a right-handed person. She’s a big fan of the central vacuum system, which is measurably more healthful than the alternative, especially where allergic people are concerned. Besides, some green certification programs allow points for the central vacuum system, due to the improvement of indoor air quality.

Stove hoods and bathroom vents need to dump their air outside, not recirculate it, and this is a detail DeCarlo sees as well worth attending to. She strongly encourages that attention be paid to surge protection, for the sake of phone and cable lines, as well as to preserve the dozens of electronic appliances a contemporary home is likely to contain. The authors say,

New home buyers will get real value and usable benefit from such systems, and the small investment to offer them such protection could give you a real competitive advantage, even in a tight market.

On the subject of the all-purpose garage, DeCarlo is very enthusiastic, urging us to think of it as a room in the house, which will have furniture, just like any other room. The garage’s furniture consists of workbenches, sinks, mechanical devices, cabinets, storage bins for unseasonal clothing and equipment, and many other possible items. That’s in addition to being a home for cars, bikes, snowmobiles, mowers, jet skis, weed-eaters, trash cans and recycling bins. The last thing a garage should be is an afterthought.

All in all, it looks like consciousness of the Aging in Place trend is really starting to catch on.

SOURCE: “Sales Follow Function: 6 Ways to Differentiate Your Homes and Connect With Buyers” 04/20/08
photo courtesy of Elsie esq., used under this Creative Commons license


Inclusive Design = Sustainability, Says Ron Wickman

Green Roof

Sustainability thrives in Canada, where Ron Wickman compares the idea of sustainability with the concept of inclusive design and finds them to be one in the same. Marta Gold interviewed him recently for The Edmonton Journal’s series on the living spaces created for themselves by local architects. Gold says,

Wickman is the barrier-free design consultant for the new southwest recreation centre. He also does audits of existing buildings to improve their accessibility to the disabled, as well as retrofitting homes and designing new ones. He recently took us on a tour of the house he designed for himself, wife Stacey and their three children, Ceira, Kellen and Jayden.

Wickman tore down his previous house and built another with the same footprint as what had been there, and then added a second story with a deck. He takes prospective clients on tours of his family’s home, and calls it his “3-D business card.” Creating a green roof is his next eagerly anticipated project, and he explains why that is more of an altruistic endeavor than a direct benefit to a homeowner.

The new house includes an office suite with its own entrance door at the front. This is a great solution for the increasing number of professionals who work at home. When the family hosts a graduation party, the living space can be extended into the office space. At some other point in the family’s history, that part of the house might become a “granny flat” or the place where an adult child who has suffered a setback can lick the wounds. And here’s the good part: the more inclusively a home is designed and built in the first place, the less work will have to be done when the family’s needs change later on. Without the need for a major remodel, less energy is used, fewer materials are used, and so on. Voila! Sustainability. It could almost be said that a good architect’s job is to put himself out of business.

In Wickman’s office, a frame on the wall holds an anonymous note he received: “Your house is a monstrosity. It blights the neighborhood.” Of course, in his view, what goes on inside the house is the thing to focus on. Does it work for the people who live in it? That’s the important thing. And all kinds of people might be living in it.

Here in America, it’s still Older Americans’ Month, so the issue of universal/accessible/ transgenerational/inclusive design is very much with us. “Aging in place” has become the rallying cry of the generation that in its youth roamed the world like gypsies, and that’s as it should be. There’s nothing wrong with settling down, and the right place to do it is in your own home. Even those of us who are very fit have friends and relatives who want to come over once in a while. Wickman talks about visitability, which means that any person can enter the house under their own steam, move around inside it, and be able to do a simple thing like use the restroom independently.

In Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition, this definition of visitability, by Concrete Change founder Eleanor Smith, is quoted:

A movement to change home construction practices so that virtually all new (single-family) homes, whether or not designated for residents who currently have disabilities, offer a few specific features that make the homes easier for people who develop a mobility impairment to live in and visit.

Speaking of the combination of sustainability and inclusiveness, Wickman says,

Right now a lot of people have the impression that it’s more expensive and it looks institutional and it doesn’t have good resale value, so you have to explain that ‘universal’ can be in any house — it’s not a style or a look or anything, it’s a way of thinking.

SOURCE: ” Universally welcoming ” 04/10/08
photo courtesy of PetroleumJelliffe, used under this Creative Commons license


Bjorklund on Accessibility, Universal Design


It’s official: May is Older Americans’ Month. Although Kevin Bjorklund is not officially an Older American, he faces the same accessibility challenges that many older people do, as described by Joel Koyama in a Star Tribune article. (From his own point of view, Bjorklund himself has also written an article for Access Press, called “Living in Style.”)

Because of an early childhood accident, Kevin Bjorklund lost the use of his legs and has spent his life in a wheelchair. Most aids designed to help the disabled are aesthetically unpleasing, and as a creative person, he was bothered by that. Especially when a person works at home and spends most of his waking hours in the same environment, the way things look can make a big difference to morale. And that’s not even starting to mention the way things work.

He was amazed to visit a new, state-of-the-art “accessible” house and find a set of stairs at the entrance. Inside this showplace, an elevator was the only concession that had been made to the needs of a wheelchair-bound person. Where were the self-storing doors? Where was the curbless shower stall? Why was the oven not lowered to a decent height? Where were the front-loading washer and dryer?

Observers have reported such clueless sights as a kitchen sink built so that a wheelchair could slide under it — until the garbage disposal apparatus was installed to block the way, making the whole “accessibility” concept an unfunny joke.

Some builders know how uncomfortable it makes people to discuss decreasing abilities, even when called by the name of “aging in place.” They install stealth “aging in place” features but don’t tout these preparations unless asked — for instance, bathroom walls reinforced in anticipation of the need for grab bars.

Unfortunately, a lot of helpful features add significantly to the cost of a house up front, but the payoff comes much later when people face the choice between staying in their own longtime residence or having to move into some kind of assisted living facility.

Technically, accessible design refers to a definite set of parameters to be observed, which make a place accessible to people with disabilities. Universal design, on the other hand, is limited only by the imaginations of the designers and architects and of course the people who will be living in a house. It’s an open-ended concept.

In an echo of one of the precepts of Werner Erhard who said, “The world doesn’t work unless it works for everyone,” Koyama quotes his subject on the topic of the difference:

“Universal design is about usability, not disability,” said Bjorklund, who works from his home as a product consultant for a technology company. “It’s for creating environments that work for everyone.”

The house in Lakeville, Minnesota, which Bjorklund eventually created for himself incorporated 70 features that come under the heading of “universal design,” says Koyama.

Some are as simple as lever-style door handles (instead of knobs) and easy-to-reach electrical outlets placed mid-level on walls. Others are more structural, such as wider doorways, no-rise thresholds and varied countertop heights and depths. Bjorklund’s four-bedroom rambler even has several no-step decks that one can easily roll or step upon.

Kitchens and bathrooms are particularly vulnerable to design flaws with regard to accessibility. A more complete list of the features Bjorklund installed includes mention of slide-out drawers in lower kitchen cabinets where dishes can be stored, and a vanity table with a recessed area underneath.

(The photo on this page, incidentally, is not of the Bjorklund house. It’s an art photo.)

SOURCE: ” Homes without barriers” 03/27/08
photo courtesy of Brett L. , used under this Creative Commons license


First LEED-Certified Parking Structure, Santa Monica, California

Santa Monica Civic Center parking structure

Count on California to implement pioneering technologies, especially those related to cars. In Santa Monica, the city’s Green Building Program offers an interesting case study – the first certifiably green parking garage. This article is more oriented toward the technical details, but fortunately, another website, Inhabitat, offers spectacular pictures of the building’s exterior.

As for what the City of Santa Monica itself has to say about it, here is the Project Overview, as presented on their website:

The City of Santa Monica has made an aggressive commitment to becoming more sustainable. The new Civic Center Parking Structure embodies that commitment while at the same time establishing a new aesthetic monument in the City. This parking structure promises to be the first building of its type in the country to receive a LEED-Certified rating through the U.S. Green Building Council. The building features design strategies, materials, products, and construction practices that preserve natural resources, conserve water and energy, and reduce waste.

The page includes photos of many of the details that went into the sustainable design, like the photovoltaic panels on the roof which also provide shade for the top parking level. On the other levels, white ceilings augment the available light which is also bolstered by fluorescent lamps. A solar power inverter takes the energy harvested by the photovoltaic panels, and changes it to alternating current for the building’s needs. Stormwater is filtered and used for landscaping and toilet-flushing. Recycled steel and glass are used, in addition to recycled flyash in the concrete, and the building has outlets for 14 electric vehicles for public use. Alternative transportation is encouraged by the provision of bicycle storage lockers, and signs help the public understand the advantages of the building’s green components.

The building’s creators, Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners, also contribute some remarks:

Pre-cast white, ribbed concrete panels are set in a rhythmic, variegated pattern on all facades. These panels, in shifting locations along the facades, lend a surprising quality that screens the presence of parked cars. On the Fourth Street façade, a series of bays made of channeled colored glass breaks down the scale of the structure, and are set at varying sizes and angles to provide a light, luminous, and ever-changing quality to the viewer.

The considerations related to vehicles and parking are much more complicated than would be apparent to the uneducated eye. Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition devotes several pages of its Building Sitework section to these questions, and then goes into the matter of accessible parking in even greater detail in its Inclusive Design section, including all the specifications for various scenarios. Its introduction on design considerations says:

Creating vital places is the job of those who design, build, finance, and plan the built environment. Unfortunately, too often as acres of asphalt attest, engineering standards are applied cavalierly; they are not used properly to help design the place. Even “just a parking lot” can be made into a place of delight.

We might also want to consider what Bobby Grace asks, at Media & the Environment:

I hope you realize the contradiction of terms here; this is an earth saving structure dedicated to the machine that has arguably accelerated the destruction of the earth…Is this making a joke of LEED certification?

SOURCE: “Santa Monica Civic Center Parking Structure”
photo courtesy of Omar Omar , used under this Creative Commons license