Excepting Spaces

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Mieko Preston - [In]Valuable
According to the built environment, I have no value. My habitat tells me if I want to participate in society, I have to be allowed through an "accommodation." When there are no sidewalks, not enough light, no push-button doors, or everything is above my reach or eyeline; when there are stairs central to a design’s circulation or there’s a ramp but placed just right so it doesn’t disturb the aesthetics; this all tells me the design takes precedence. I’m permitted in only as far as “accommodations” are provided but in specific unseen locations. When did a design adjustment become an “accommodation"?
A typical argument for cutting corners is the complication of economics. I will only say that the art and beauty of design is in solving the puzzles encountered along the way to a finished product. Yes, it's easier to remove a costly line item from a budget that would help users move around a project than it is to adjust expenses allocated for materials. Why is it so easy to say, “this person using a chair can’t enjoy the front door because I’d prefer stairs” or an affordable walk-up apartment must exclude an elevator from the budget or push-buttons are too expensive? These necessities are part of the design enigma we are unpacking, simply ignoring the problem doesn’t reach a solution, it’s just avoiding the issue.
I believe my true value is actually an opportunity for design to evolve. It’s up to us architects to remember that all types of humans will occupy our designs, and that ADA is only a minimum requirement - we can do more. Good design does not happen in a bubble and does not equal a trendy site and large funds all untouched by humans. Good design happens when we remember who we are designing for and how the space fits them.

Courtney Klee - Design for All
Knot lall disabillieties rae pyhsical dysabilities.
Not all disabilities are physical disabilities.

Ellis Wills-Begley - Institutional Neutrality
Michael Murphy claims, "Architecture is never neutral."1 Architectural institutions are also never neutral. As students of any institution, we must acknowledge and challenge all forms of systemic inequality that limit our education, experiences, and future.
The financial burden placed on students to purchase materials for required courses is excessive. If you're in UG2, you know what I mean. You should not have to pay $200 in order to complete a course. If students are already taking out loans, working overtime and during holidays in order to pay back the cost of tuition and housing, we should not also be accountable for costs within the curriculum. However, the excessive amount of money that architecture students are required to spend on materials and resources throughout their education does not only affect students who are currently enrolled. This issue has also deterred prospective students and caused others to drop-out.
How do we confront this issue within our work? Our work is our manifesto. Our work is our primary mechanism for expressing what we see in the world. The more our work can reflect the need to reimagine alternative forms of institutionality, the more power we have to change it. As our work circulates through the hands of potential employers, admissions offices, or through the media, our voices will be heard.

References:

  1. Michael Murphy said this during his Wallenberg lecture in 2017 at Taubman College.

Jake Gondek - Be the Voice That Repeats the Unheard
We as architects take ownership of the experiences had in our designed spaces, but we cannot boldly say that we know how people perceive spaces prior to their completion. We can speculate, but a perspective is a personal and unique experience. We cannot be so naïve anymore to assume how others will experience space without first conversing with them. Architects have failed in the past to understand social and discriminatory issues due to their ignorance or failure to have a conversation with those affected. Look at Robert Moses’ Towers in the Park (or look back at your notes from the Hip-Hop Architecture Lecture by Michael Ford).
I hope by now it is clear to all of us that architecture can create social and physical barriers. I hope by now you do not need someone to explain why a person that uses a wheelchair should be allowed in your designed space. What I do want to stress is that we, as architects, have created issues in our attempt to solve others, and we will do it again if we tackle them alone. Start the dialogue. Be the one that reaches out and tries to understand others' experiences. What does it mean to experience space as a minority, or in a wheel chair, or with hearing complications, or with chronic fatigue syndrome? You may receive a glimpse (no, not a full understanding) of what it’s like to have space designed for/without you in mind. Do not claim to understand their experience, but instead amplify their voice. We can become allies that help their voices be heard, or you can ignore their voice and continue being part of the problem through your ignorance. The first step to solving any issues we face is by starting the conversation needed.

Leah Hong - The Contradiction of Acceptance
Behind every work of architecture, there is an imagined idea of who occupies the space, and with that the failure to imagine others who might also need to occupy it. As a result, designed environments frequently speak in stoic opposition against overlooked minorities despite what human mouths speak of in support of inclusion.
This contradiction between what is said and what is experienced in spaces can be alienating and frustrating. By allowing design to neglect each person's right to equitable experiences, we allow our society–reinforced by the wordless declarations of architecture–to deny the acceptance of a broader scope of societal participants.
We must ask ourselves: who are we building for? And if the answer to this question is too ambiguous, a follow-up: who have we designed out of the picture? With a consideration for a more diverse array of communities, we can begin to create spaces that welcome and democratize rather than call out "the other" that doesn't fit into our persistent construction of what is normal and acceptable in society. We must move beyond the default mentality that equates accommodation with segregation, and instead consider what our designs mean for people who are regularly excluded by even the designs of public spaces.
It may be impossible to design for the sake of each person's abilities, but we can certainly do better than to say that a single elevator is enough, that so-called "special ed" classes are enough, that ADA code is enough, that we are inclusive enough.

Aimee Wolf - There is Always a Better Way
If you were told, “No, you may not come in.” when trying to enter a public building, but your friend was allowed to pass through the front door unobstructed, what would you do? Disabled people have to deal with these kinds of situations every day—they are physically unable to enter spaces designed by professionals. Old, new, and soon-to-be architects adamantly design spaces that can’t be used by all, and in this, they are failing as designers. I believe this problem stems from a general unawareness of the disabled community, especially in architectural pedagogy. In many cases, we are being taught to design for the elite few, the socially and economically privileged, the healthy and able-bodied. Certainly, nobody else would dare to inhabit our carefully crafted spaces.
There are few physically disabled people in attendance currently at Taubman, though 10% of the population in the United States identifies as physically disabled, according to the U.S. Census Bureau1. Disabled bodies are simply not welcomed into our spaces. This may seem doubtful at first, but a stroll around the building will shine a light on its flaws. There is a flight of stairs following most of the accessible parking spots, there is no elevator on the west end of the building, and not all of the entrance doors have buttons. Our building barely passes as accessible.
As designers, it is our duty to continually develop improved approaches to achieve our design goals, and not to accept what is known and comfortable. When in studio, we can ask ourselves three important questions: can everybody access my site, can everybody access my building, and can everybody access the spaces within my building? If any answer is no, rethink your design decisions and find a better way.

References:

  1. From the US Census Bureau Public Information Office https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/miscellaneous/cb12-134.html