Architects have a significant power in designing and creating spaces that everyone can use, every day. From the smallest cabin, to vast shopping centres and skyscrapers, architects are responsible for creating structures for all people to use and enjoy. With that significant power comes significant responsibility.
Celebration of high quality architecture has traditionally always focused on the aesthetic of a particular building or structure. Rarely is there widespread fanfare regarding the quality of functionality of a building. However, it is functionality that creates the most satisfied users of a building or space. Buildings that are designed with functionality as the primary consideration, are most likely to be able to accommodate people with the widest range of needs.
At the most basic level, the primary access responsibility for architects is designing buildings which satisfy the mandatory minimum access and safety standards that apply in Australia.
In the quest for a unique aesthetic, or perhaps due to unaccounted (or ignored) physical constraints, designs often fail to meet all of the country’s mandatory access standards. These standards are the MINIMUM level of access required, and failing to reach these benchmarks is not only legally inadequate, but also severely limits access for people with disabilities, people using mobility aids like prams and strollers as well as older adults and other people with a range of access requirements.
Going beyond our mandatory minimum access standards, high quality architects will focus on the principles of Universal Design, and how best to design to enable the most people possible to use a building or facility independently and intuitively. Designing with inclusion as a core principle, means all potential users are considered, and their needs are far more likely to be met.
The ability to listen, and react to user and client feedback is a key responsibility of the Architect. Whilst it is important to respect the vision a designer may have for a project, the appropriateness of real world application, and consideration of building users is essential in designing the most accessible and therefore usable spaces.
Architects who understand that prioritising access is an investment, rather than a cost, will find themselves better placed to deal with the changing needs of the population over time. These architects will develop facilities that create far better outcomes for their clients, and create a built environment that encourages inclusion, rather than separation and ‘future proofs’ the environment for many years to come.
Aside from complying with our mandatory anti-discrimination legislation, ensuring more people can effectively use spaces means more exposure for businesses and other organisations, and ultimately more turnover.
A greater understanding of the principles of Universal Design and the importance of access for everyone in the initial design process, sets the foundation for not only a high quality final product, but keeps future redesign and retrofitting costs down.