Compliance isn’t an aim – it’s a duty

Entrance to the LightHouse building showing a man using a cane and a woman with an assistance dog.Do you know of good examples of universal design in buildings? One or two maybe?  Bess Williamson asks in Metropolis magazine, Why Are There So Few Great Accessible Buildings? Of course, accessibility in its fullest sense is much more than compliance to the building code.

Professor Williamson discusses the LightHouse project, and the Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living. Including people with disability in the design process means these buildings are not a regular type of commission. In some respects they are specialised buildings because people with disability were central to design thinking. It’s puzzling to think that architects can’t apply the same thinking to all their projects. After all, everyone benefits from inclusive design. What’s worrying is that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), isn’t being heeded.

Williamson also discusses the recent architectural “triumph” of the new Queens Public Library which revealed major access problems. The architects claimed compliance on the basis that patrons could ask a librarian for help. However, this is not equitable access. It shows scant regard for the ADA and not only people with disability. Families with prams also use libraries, and staff cannot take trolleys to the shelves. Thinking about all users makes a case for universal design. The Queens Library is a case of form over function – the views from the windows, if you can reach them, are fabulous. 

Williamson concludes that access remains an afterthought for designers who look to the minimum. But disability-specific places show that access can be creative beyond the legal minimum. The article is easy to read and has a gallery of illustrations.