How not to build a library

A long flight of stairs on the left looks out over Manhattan with rows of books tiered up on the right hand side. They are only accessible via the stairs.An architectural triumph that fails its patrons. If ever there was an example of how not to design a public library, this has to be it. All because the architects failed to check with any user groups. The architects still maintain the issues are just “wrinkles” in the design, not flaws. However, bookshelves lay empty, bleacher seating is sealed off for safety reasons, baby strollers block the walkways, and that doesn’t include the issues for people with disability – patrons and staff alike. Clearly they thought the ADA was nothing to worry about. Nevertheless, the building offers wonderful views. The article is from the New York Times, New Library is a $41.5 Million Masterpiece. But About Those Stairs. It explains the issues in more detail and has more pictures. There is also a news video from Spectrum News with the story. A salutary lesson in remembering function as well as form in design.

 

Liveability plus lovability

Open area with trees and people seated at tables in an outdoor cafe. Liveability usually refers to physical conveniences associated with city life. But how do they make us feel? Are our places lovable as well? A study from 26 neighbourhoods in the United States found that liveablity and lovability are not correlated. Intangible aspects of place aren’t just nice to have – they are critical for improving economic performance. But how do you measure lovability? Lucinda Hartley of University of Melbourne explains more about the research and how socialisation of places also increases economic activity. A place needs to be inclusive with Access-ability to make it lovable by all, of course. The title of the article is, Lovability versus Liveability: What big data tells us about our neighbourhoods. Includes nice pictures and links to other references.

Why wouldn’t you?

Graphic of a purple house shape with green outline for a window and a door.The catch cry “Why wouldn’t you? is the three word tag used in promotional material to promote universal design in housing. A builder, and a building designer are calling their collaboration Project Silver. They are promoting Livable Housing Australia’s Silver Level for improved liveability. The mystery is if it would cost so little in the scheme of things, why aren’t the building designer and builder just doing it automatically?The catch cry should be to the builder – why wouldn’t you just do it? Then no-one would have to label the home as some kind of special design.

The six minute video (below) puts the case very well. It includes contributions from different people, including the mayor of the Sunshine Coast. It’s worth a watch. Another builder in Townsville is telling the same story

Editor’s comment: The builder claims Silver Level costs an additional $3000 to potentially save $60,000. Possibly it is another way to sell an “extra” and therefore the customer pays over and above the actual cost of the features.

Australian Network on Universal Housing Design supports the Gold Level of the guidelines. It considers this level makes homes fit for purpose for the majority of the population across their lifetime. 

 

Hear this! The value of a hearing loop

Two women are on stage. One is lying down and looks dead. The other leans over her with grief.When theatre patrons can’t make out the dialogue they stop going. There’s no point. But a hearing loop can bring them back. A hearing loop works with a special switch on a hearing aid. It sends the sound from the speaker directly to the aid. Yes, there are other types of hearing augmentation. But who wants to go to ask for a special device to hang round your neck? Older people generally shun assistive technology because of the perceived stigma. Hearing loops are far more discrete. See this video of a case study that surprised a theatre manager. 

There are several types of hearing augmentation systems, but hearing loops are preferred by users. Other systems don’t cut out background noise or require a special device to be worn by users. English subtitling is sometimes used for operas so that patrons can follow the story. Captioning is a similar system and could be applied to live performances as well.

The Pain of Design

A work table is filled with paper and folders and a woman is cutting a piece of paper with scissors. It looks like a group of people are working on a design.Arthritis is a common condition and is not often referred to as a disability. However, the pain of arthritis is disabling. So how to design out pain? Design Council ran a workshop with people with arthritis. They found that no-one was interested in special products, which are often stigmatising. So the principle of inclusive design became the top issue.

“Inclusive design is crucial. You have to step away from the idea that it’s “older people” having a problem and start looking at a universal problem and therefore a universal solution.”

They found the most important thing was that people want desirable, stylish, mainstream products that anyone would want to own. People don’t want medicalised, stigmatising equipment. Clearly, including the user-voice is the way to design for all rather than the mythical average. 

The article is titled, Ollie Phelan of Versus Arthritis writes about the importance of the end-user being at the heart of design, and can be accessed on the Medium.com website where there is more information.

Ageing in Place: Not there yet

A suburban house in UK showing before and after the ramp. The ramp makes several zig-zags up the front of the house. It looks ugly.What home modifications are needed most and how much are they needed? Mary Ann Jackson analysed 50 home modification reports in Victoria to get an answer. The homes visited were built before any advocacy for accessible housing began. Consequently they all had a doorsill or step at the front door and tight spaces. This was further complicated with a screen door. Meter boxes also intruded on entry space. Many of the fittings, such as taps and handles were poorly designed to suit ageing in place. Jackson advises that accessibility issues are endemic to Australia’s existing housing stock. This is a big problem when 39.5% of households include a person with disability. If it is too expensive for governments or individuals to finance the required renovations, we will need another approach. Let’s hope the Regulatory Impact Statement due next year supports accessible design in all new homes.

Architect and Planner Jackson says, “Cooperation, collaboration, and a clear recognition of the emotional, physical, and economic cost-benefit of ageing in place will be needed to rebuild Australia’s housing stock to better accommodate all inhabitants throughout life.” The title of the newsletter article is Ageing in place – are we there yet?  

The picture above is famous for its technical compliance, but not usability, and definitely not aesthetics.

 

Blindness no barrier to designing

Chris Downey sits a a desk with a woman and there are tactile architectural plans on the desk in front of them.Can you keep practising as an architect after you go blind? The answer is Yes. This is Chris Downey’s experience. With a few work-arounds and new tools he says he is better at his job now. He found a way of getting tactile versions of drawings and developed his own tools for making drawings. He has been a campaigner for a universal design approach to the built environment ever since. CBS News has a story about him talking about his approach to work and life, including playing baseball with his son. Downey covers a lot of issues with grace and humour. His TED talk is very popular and there is a transcript of the talk. Being blind doesn’t mean giving up on life. For Downey it was discovering new adventures.

 

Studio units universally designed

Artists impression of the four unit complex from the street showing treas and plantings and low set building with an angled roofline.It’s often said that universally designed dwellings need extra space. Designing accessible studio units puts that myth to bed. A project consisting of four modest, high-quality dwellings are designed to adapt as the needs of the occupants change. According to Studio Bright, the units are designed to accommodate Gold Livable Housing standards. The second living or study space can be closed-off to become a second bedroom for a caregiver or visitor. This project aims to help women out of the private rental market into a home of their own. 

Other desirable design features are not forsaken in this universal design approach. Each unit is designed to catch natural light and is set in thoughtful landscaping. The four required car parking spaces are flexible areas for communal outdoor space. Fruit treas and other plantings help foster a sense of community. The L-shaped units can be arranged in different ways, which means this model can be rolled out on other sites.  

A Grand Design as accessible design

Kevin McCloud stands in the kitchen with Mark Butler who sits in a wheelchair.The UK television program Grand Designs hosted by Kevin McCloud rarely shows any home that has accessible elements unless it is specifically for a client with a disability. On the Grand Designs Facebook page, McCloud visits a kitchen that almost anyone would admire. He wheels himself around the kitchen with the owner and shows some fascination with the design. The owner said, “It’s the environment that makes you feel disabled”. A fair call. Have a look at the features and see what you think. 

There is a longer newspaper article that provides more detail.  However, all does not end well. Apparently the owner and his wife decided to separate. Consequently, another newspaper article has the home for sale a month after it was completed. But this one has lots of pictures. It just looks like a spacious home with nothing “disabled” about it.

The real issue is that wheelchair users are left with no choice but to build to their own specifications because there is nothing available on the market that will remotely match their requirements. That is, if they can afford it. The last article on the sale also shows how building a new home is no easy road and takes it toll on relationships. That’s regardless of any kind of ability or disability.

A font style for everyone

A page showing the font style and other information.The Braille Institute of America has won the Fast Company Graphic Design Award for developing a font suitable for people with low vision – as well as everyone else. On first glance it doesn’t look much different to other sans serif fonts. But the tweaks make a difference to legibility and comprehension. The title of the font is Atkinson Hyperlegible. People who are blind early in life will likely use Braille. But those who lose their sight later in life probably won’t. New technologies are available to this larger group that enable them to retain their independence in everyday activities. The style and size of font is part of the Braille Institute of America staying relevant as the world changes.