An inclusive design refers to one that can seamlessly accommodate several different communities. Most ancient cities included some level of segregation, both at the city level and in terms of spaces, be it based on gender, income, or race. Even in modern times, many projects enhance the profits of builders and developers by catering only to specific communities, often at the expense of marginalized ones. This leads to a systematic exclusion and neglect of certain underrepresented groups, like racial minorities, certain genders, people with disabilities, etc. often, the most alienated groups are left vulnerable to assault, climate-based disasters, and other forms of risk. The responsibility to minimize these risks lies in the hands of architects, planners, and designers.
When designing inclusive spaces, a designer must understand various demographic factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, religion, income groups, etc. This ensures that all groups are catered to. Further, one should look out for community feedback and focus on equality of experience, a criterion we often turn a blind eye to by catering to the majority communities and higher income groups. Often the approach to inclusive architecture is influenced by the practices followed within a ‘universal design’, a term coined by architect Ronald Mace. Universal design strives to create spaces that are accessible to all.
Although principles of universal design should be included everywhere, irrespective of the purpose of the building or its location, buildings such as educational institutions, healthcare facilities, and civic centers that offer facilities that are a basic, fundamental right of any human being, must be inclusive. Within these buildings, it is necessary to design public spaces that promote interaction between various groups, in addition to being flexible and functional. Wide pathways, extensive use of ramps, hands-free building systems, and the use of automatic doors are some of the ways in which universal access can be promoted. Slip-resistant tactile flooring and pavers allow for comfortable movement of the visually impaired. Bathrooms should also be large enough to accommodate wheelchair users. Additionally, allowing natural light, ventilation, soft landscaping, and neutral color palettes make spaces more welcoming and comforting. Paths should be free from obstacles and ensure proper visibility.
The above principles and techniques can be further understood through some examples illustrated below.
Some illustrative examples of inclusive Design
Ed Roberts campus in Berkeley, USA was designed by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, the campus features a centralized helical ramp, which connects with the corridors on the two floors of the building. It is placed behind a glazed façade, facing the main entry plaza. In addition to automatic doors and hands-free building controls, The campus also has a seven-foot wide corridor, which can easily accommodate two wheelchair users. Easy-to-navigate routes and high-contrast colored and textured flooring further add to the easy usability of the space. The bathrooms also allow for accessibility by specially-abled users. The building’s proximity to public transit makes it a hotspot among the local communities. It may be a place for people to work, pass through or stop by.
Designed by Pierre Goutti Karine Louilot Architectes, the boarding school for the deaf is situated in Gradignan, France. In addition to visual detectors and automatic devices, the architects explored special reflections of patterns and materials. This can also be seen on the façade of the building through the large-scale usage of bamboos and perforated materials, offering a striking visual stimulation.
Architecture is not just about whole buildings but also includes smaller details, which may often get neglected in the pursuit of designing inclusive spaces. The prototype of inclusive door handles by designer Rowan Nowell is one such unique example. Traditional door knobs rotate and impart undue stress on the wrist of the user. By designing a handle that pivots in the plan, as opposed to the section, the doors are much easier to open for all users. Additionally, UK-based manufacturer Eclisse advocates the installation of sliding doors instead of hinged ones. This eliminates the need for backward and forward motion while increasing the usable floor space and reducing the possibility of an injury.
The responsive street furniture project by London-based Ross Atkin Associates applies similar thinking. The project aims to improve the pedestrian experience for the disabled. As part of the solution, they created a system that detects the personal electronic devices of registered users. Further, they designed street lamps with adjustable levels of lighting, mounted foldaway seating, pedestrian crossings with extended time limits, and signage that lights up and has audio aids. These systems detect the user and cater to their specific needs, ensuring a safer experience.
Inclusive design is no longer a question of morality, social responsibility, or appeal but a matter of necessity. In addition to providing access to all, inclusive design strategies help avoid stigmatizing effects of designs targeted toward a particular community or group. As a field that largely centers around user experience, it becomes necessary for architects to design to support man from cradle to grave. It falls upon architects to experiment with innovative approaches and strategies for more inclusive spaces, that cater to people from all communities and sects of society, allowing them to flourish as individuals and contribute toward common goals.
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