Architectural barriers are unfortunately present and are common everywhere. Architectural barriers are those physical obstacles that prevent people from reaching, accessing or moving freely through an urban space or infrastructure. They are a lack of accessibility in buildings or urban infrastructure. These types of barriers are accentuated by the lack of ramps for the mobility of people with disabilities or specific tools for certain sectors of the population that can transport or move through the streets and buildings. For example, sidewalk curbs are architectural barriers, as they prevent people with wheelchairs from easily moving around cities. So are the stairs without an alternative route such as ramps or elevators. There are other types of barriers such as excessively narrow sidewalks or street furniture arranged in a way that hinders mobility.

However, there have been advances in different countries related to public transport, such as in Helsinki, Finland, where the existing tramway system was made accessible by incorporating short ramps at the stops. In Beijing, China, and New Delhi, India, there are low-floor buses that have increased the ease of travel for users with disabilities. There have been many examples of barrier-free designs throughout history, like the ones that follow.

Laurent House 1952 – Frank Lloyd Wright

There are several architectural structures that support people who are disabled. One of those pieces is a residence designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1952, Laurent House, decades before the standards listed for disability.

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Exterior of Laurent House_©Webflow

Although it was the only building made by him for a person with disabilities, the iconic house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. Later, it was opened to the public, in 2014.

Image 2_Interior of Laurent House_©Webflow

House in Bordeaux, Maison Bordeaux 1998 – Rem Koolhaas, OMA 

Built four decades after Frank Lloyd’s Laurent House, this interesting house was one of Rem Koolhaas’ residences, called Maison Bordeaux. Whether it’s the multiple levels used in the design or the site on a hill with a panoramic view over the city, the project is mind gasping.  

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Exterior view of Maison Burdeaux_© Hans Werlemann

“Contrary to what you might expect, I don’t want a simple house. I want a complicated house because it will determine my world.” – Jean Francois Lemoine, the client.

Koolhaas took up the challenge and was surprised with details that were apart from conventional design. In addition, the movement for a wheelchair was easy through the three levels in the house, incorporating an elevator platform as large as a room, which is also really a well-equipped office by itself. The house is also the subject of an architectural documentary called Koolhaas Houselife.

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Maison Burdeaux’s office_©Hans Werlemann

Virginia Piper Sports + Fitness – Baldinger-Studio

We all know about the Paralympic Games, and the need for a barrier-free environment is necessary not only for training but also to maintain health. In 2012, Baldinger Architectural Studio designed a sports and fitness centre for people with disabilities in an area of 45,000 square feet.

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Sport and Fitness Center for Disabled People_©Raul Garcia

It is a first of its kind Sports facility in the western United States. The concept was self-explanatory, and the design of the campus was based on achieving a “total environment” that provided complete freedom of movement.

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Sport and Fitness Center for Disabled People, climbing wall_©Raul Garcia

Hazelwood School – Alan Dunlop Architect

A good design does not offer simple space, but it plays with different textures through the use of different types of materials. A successful example can be seen in the form of a school in Glasgow. Hazelwood School by Alan Dunlop Architects is a school for children and young people aged 2 to 18, who are blind and deaf – “dual sensory impaired”.

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Hazelwood School top view_©Alan Dunlop Architect

“I was determined to create a school that would support the needs of children and the aspirations of their parents, a place of safety and ambition that would free the teacher and inspire the child.” – Alan Dunlop.

A child learns more from the experience. The design of the school is based on essential senses such as smell, taste, and touch, it creates the awareness of the surroundings promoting independence.

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Hazelwood School interior corridor_©Alan Dunlop Architect

House of Disabled People’s Organization / Cubo Arkitekter + FORCE4 Architects

The architects state that they have always looked forward to a universal design that is accessible to everyone, whether it is a qualified body or a disabled person. Such an example is offered in the form of the house of Disabled People’s Organisations, Denmark, where approximately 20 organisations are now represented in.

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House of Disabled People’s Organizations_©Martin Schubert

The organizations supported all efforts to create the most accessible office building in the world, regardless of them being completely different individual organisations. They believed that the rules do provide the size of the spaces to be designed, however, we need to focus more on the need of a disabled person. When we make a universal design, it is an equally accessible space, which allows us to expand our reach for new knowledge, a knowledge that is beyond and is not limited to standards. 

Professor Stephen Hawking wrote in the preface of the First World Report on Disability, “We have a moral duty to remove the barriers of participation, and to invest sufficient funding and expertise to unlock the vast potential of people with disabilities”.

House of Disabled People’s Organizations interior_©Martin Schubert

Architectural barriers can be found in urban environments, buildings, or infrastructures such as hospitals, schools or private buildings. We must start from the premise that all public spaces as well as private spaces must be free of architectural barriers, as seen in the buildings listed above.

Architecture is about creating buildings that do not hinder the accessibility and interaction of people. Below are a few elements listed that are necessary to incorporate:

  • Access ramps on all levels of the building from the sidewalk
  • Handrails in buildings or public infrastructure
  • Signage in Braille language
  • Elevators with enough space for people in wheelchairs

Architects have a big responsibility when designing a building, therefore they must be responsible and inclusive in order to achieve buildings and cities free of architectural barriers.

References:
  1. Laurenthouse.com. 2017. Laurent House. [online] Available at: <https://www.laurenthouse.com> [Accessed 25 May 2022].
  2. Kroll, A., 2011. AD Classics: Maison Bordeaux / OMA. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/104724/ad-classics-maison-bordeaux-oma> [Accessed 25 May 2022].
  3. Architizer. 2022. Hazelwood School by Alan Dunlop Architect Limited. [online] Available at: <https://architizer.com/projects/hazelwood-school/> [Accessed 26 May 2022].
  4. ArchDaily. 2014. House of Disable People’s Organization / Cubo Arkitekter + FORCE4 Architects. [online] Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/495736/house-of-disable-people-s-organization-cubo-force4> [Accessed 26 May 2022].
  5. Mondoworldwide.com. 2012. Sports and Fitness Center for Persons with Disabilities: Virginia G. Piper | SpazioMondo | Mondo Spa. [online] Available at: <https://www.mondoworldwide.com/emea/en/spaziomondo/projects/project-virginia-g-piper-sports-and-fitness-center-for-persons-with-disabilities/> [Accessed 26 May 2022].
  6. Singh, S., 2018. Designing Barrier-Free Environments – Bringing Designs To Life. [online] Nirman.com. Available at: <http://nirman.com/blog/2018/12/08/designing-barrier-free-environments/> [Accessed 28 May 2022].
  7. Tappuni, R., 2003. Accessibility for the Disabled. [online] Un.org. Available at: <https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/designm/index.html> [Accessed 28 May 2022].
  8. Heiss, O., Degenhart, C. and Ebe, J., 2010. Barrier-free design. 1st ed. Basel: Birkhäuser.

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