Updated: Dec 10, 2020
By Minji Cho
An Architecture Student’s Rethinking of Standards for Accessible Design
When we’re creating a home that is accessible for disabled users, aren’t we designing for ourselves because there is no guarantee that we will be able-bodied forever? This perspective curated my architectural design of a residence that embodies what I believe is necessary to reshape the current application of ADA standards. With the incredible knowledge of my studio professor, Alfie Koetter, and alongside my talented peers, we dove into the evolution of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its impact on architecture today.
On a day to day basis, we experience the rooted standards of the built environment. From the vertical rise of steps to the heights of kitchen counter tops, the standard dimensions undoubtedly favor a specific user. That user is many of us. Our accessibility is an unquestioned privilege that helps us navigate. But for some, our privilege is their greatest barrier.
Especially as an individual who has so much to learn in my own field, I immediately trust professional resources like the Architectural Graphic Standards. But of the many lessons I’ve taken away from educating myself on an issue that I honestly did not previously question prior to my studio course, I have learned the significance of using my voice now. It is never too early, regardless of how far along you see yourself through the expectations of your career path, to discuss the changes you feel are necessary to enhance the world. The current ADA standards are a step towards change and we as designers and rethinkers are initiators of greater change to break down these barriers of accessibility to make design inclusive.
In my approach to designing a fully accessible residence, my project rethinks the current application of ADA on circulation via ramps. Rather than having the organization of my residence rely on the additive quality of a ramp system, the design is the result of prioritizing this same system of circulation. The four formal parts that make up the whole of my residence are tied together by a system of inclination, an essential part of my project that carries a functional and representational responsibility. An accessible building does not need to look accessible. Improved standards of design should be ingrained into the built environment as well. To design for others is to design for us so why not design for all of us?