Though man evolved from the same species that would have possibly had identical behaviour and characteristics at the dawn of time, today we live in a world where every single one of us come from a broad range of backgrounds in all possible permutations and combinations. This is further reflected in our mannerism, lifestyles, and personal choices and preference.
Buildings and public spaces are used by all age groups, demographics, differently abled people, and people of all ethnicities and genders. Use of a space by people with temporary conditions such as fractures or pregnancies must also be envisioned while creating it. In such a beautifully diverse world, it is indeed quite difficult to design a space or utility keeping in mind the preferences of a variety of user groups. It is obviously not plausible to tailor a public space based on the requirement of each and every user group- it would turn out to be quite an eccentric space! Instead of designing for each and every user group, it is more feasible to break down any physical barriers or obstacles that may come up in the due course of using or experiencing a space. Design features like flexible layouts, ramps, railing, etc. are increasingly being used in various buildings and spaces to enhance the user experience.
Every country has a National Building Code that contains a set of guidelines and standards that every built space must incorporate in order to make it inclusive. However, these guidelines are often not adhered to, especially in countries with a high population density where the lack of space is a prominent problem.
One of the main features of an inclusive building is that it must be accessible by all. Ramps, railings, elevators and other means of aiding mobility must be aptly provided to make sure that people with disabilities can easily move across the spaces, without having to come across any unnecessary hurdles. It is also thus important that the surfaces are non-slip and crutches, wheelchairs, and prosthetic limbs can be used smoothly on the surface.
To make a space inclusive, its planning and layout must also be flexible. Open or flexible planning provides scope for usage of a space in different ways. This means that the contents of said space could be easily rearranged or re-accommodated to give way for any user’s requirements. It is thus important to create an adaptable environment that promotes inclusivity. Take for example, the Musholm- a sports and recreation holiday centre owned by the Danish Muscular Dystrophy Foundation. A key feature of this circular building is a 100m long ramp that circulates from the base of the building to the top, where a fully accessible sky lounge is located. This centre boasts facilities for people with disabilities that remain unmatched by any other space- aerial ropeways, adjustable furniture and fittings, electronically controlled curtains in each room, etc.
Inclusive architecture is also responsive in the sense that the architect must take feedback from various minority user groups, to improve the quality and feasibility of the built environment. A building that might inhibit the self-independence of a user is sure to make the user feel uncomfortable and out of place. It is therefore important to make sure that every user’s personal experience is taken into account.
Furthermore, clearly visible signages and lines of sight are also an important aspect of inclusive design. This aids the experience of deaf users as well as persons whose eye level maybe be lower than average (like a person sitting in a wheelchair). An excellent example of this is the DeafSpace at Galluadet University. The DeafSpace is a built environment that caters to deaf users. Innovations and alterations in layout and planning, acoustics, and light and shadow create a barrier-free space that deaf users can easily get accustomed to in the first few tries. Clear signages further enhance wayfinding through the space.
Richard Rogers once said, “There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges facing our cities or to the housing crisis, but the two issues need to be considered together. From an urban design and planning point of view, the well-connected open city is a powerful paradigm and an engine for integration and inclusivity.” Inclusive architecture and Universal Design pave the way for each and every user to be independent, and not seek help from others. Small actions like opening doors, moving across hallways or levels, or using certain furniture should not become a burdensome act for any user, especially differently abled and/or minority groups. Furthermore, this creates comfortable spaces that provide an equally enjoyable experience for every user, regardless of their physical or mental abilities or conditions. Unfortunately, inclusivity has only recently started becoming the norm in modern architecture. However, it is indeed inspiring to see a number of architects practice universal design, thus making our world a much better space.