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Methods for Teaching Barrier Free Design:

Less Restrictive Housing Environments Project

February 1990

Project Director Edward Steinfeld, Arch. D.

Adaptive Environments Laboratory School of Architecture & Planning 112 Hayes Hall State University of New York at Buffalo Buffalo, New York 14214

Telephone: 716-831-3861 716-831-3483

Fax: 716-831-2297

© 1990 by SUNY/ Buffalo all rights reserved.


The author would like to acknowledge the many people who contributed to the activities described in this report. Staff of the Western New York Independent Living Center, Mike Orzel, Maureen Denecky and Doug Usiak, helped as participants in the role playing and as supervisors of field placement students. From the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association, Mike Mercurio assisted in the role playing and Brian Black addressed the course on building regulations. Gustavo Lima was a research assistant responsible for documenting the analysis cards. Bruce Majkowski provided consultation and support in the Computer Aided Design Laboratory. Eleanor Barbanes provided assistance with the full scale modeling. Charles Buechel did the graphic design of this report with assistance from Steve Rapp. Of course, the students in all the courses should be acknowledged for the generally high level of effort and motivation.


I. Introduction 1

II. Objectives 2

III. Educational Philosophy 3

IV. Educational Program 6

V. Design Studio: Adaptable Low Rise Suburban Housing 8

VI. Design Studio: Accessible 27 Housing Competiton

VII. Architectural Programming Option: The Public Responsibilities of Architecture Building Codes and Regulations 32

VIII. Environment/Behavior Lecture/Seminar: The Social Nature of Architecture 34

IX. Technical Assistance Projects 42

X. Thesis Project -Parametric Computer Aided Barrier Free Design 45

XI. Conclusions 48

XII. References 51 Introduction

As they go about their daily lives, people who have disabilities, are incredulous that buildings are not yet accessible. Given all the media attention to civil rights for this sizable portion of the population, it is hard to believe that architects seem to forget so often about their needs, particularly when they design buildings that, by law, are required to be barrier-free. Although the architectural profession is not the only part of society at fault, the profession shoulders a great deal of the blame. Architects are aware that the regulations exist. They are entrusted by the client and the public to design buildings that meet them. Why, then, do they not insure that their designs are accessible? A scientific study of the problem would probably uncover a variety of causes, but, in the end, we would have to propose some remedies that are easy enough to identify without the research.

At the beginning of the "barrier free design movement" in the late fifties, an effort was made to increase public awareness: this campaign has continued until the present day. Very shortly after that, the movement developed a second focus, building regulations. In the mid-seventies, a third focus on research was initiated. A great deal of attention has been given to these three activities since then, although most people familiar with the issues would agree that still more is necessary. But, one area that has received little attention is professional education. Although not entirely neglected, it has not received anywhere near the same emphasis as the other three activities. Perhaps that is because the bulk of front line workers in the "movement" are not architectural educators. In fact, very few of the leading figures hold full time academic positions.

Within the academic ranks, barrier free design is not a "hot" subject. To understand why, one must understand the curricula and missions of professional schools. The design studio is the core of professional programs. In most schools, the studio is focused on the teaching of design skills, not content. Curricula have been developed that lead students through a graded series of exercises often using similar, if not identical, projects from year to year. The content of projects is dictated by pedagogical goals defined in terms of skill development. Introductory studios concentrate on basic two and three dimensional design exercises and small buildings such as cabins, houses and

commercial facilities. In these projects, specific aspects of design such as structure, light, massing or plan organization are emphasized. At the intermediate level, the studio content shifts to somewhat larger buildings and the emphasis is more on integration of all the concerns usually with some clearly defined principles or goals. At the upper levels, projects are more complicated and the instructors demand a greater virtuosity in design skill. More involvement from the students themselves is often demanded in setting the intellectual agenda of the project. Many schools culminate the studio sequence with a student defined thesis. Of course, the above description is, necessarily, a generalization because the approaches vary widely from school to school.

Besides studio instruction, all schools have a set of required and elective lecture/seminar courses in the following fields: structural engineering, history and theory of architecture, construction technology, site planning, urban design and planning, and professional practice. Not all schools require the same courses, and others require courses in additional areas, such as environment-behavior studies.

There has not been a comprehensive survey of schools that documents the degree to which barrier free design is a part of curricula. Thus, my observations here are based on familiarity with the general "lore" of architectural education and the curricula from about ten schools' with which I am familiar. If this subject is taught at all, it is most likely through studio courses. Studio instructors often require that projects dealing with public facilities such as concert halls, museums and libraries are at least minimally accessible. That usually means having an accessible entry and an elevator. However, studio projects very rarely reach the level of detail at which all the technical issues of barrier free design would come into play. Moreover, the objective of making an accessible building is usually secondary to the main emphasis of the project. In a few schools where an instructor has a special interest in the subject, there might be an elective course offered. While reviewing curricula of leading schools, I did not see one required course listed on the subject. A few schools teach elective courses on housing and environmental design for older people. We can assume that, in such courses, accessibility would receive some attention. It would be useful to have more objective data on how each school deals with this topic but I feel confident in stating that, in general, it is at a cursory level.

The content of barrier free design really overlaps many different parts of the curriculum: design skills, environment-behavior issues, regulatory issues, construction technology, history and theory. However, most faculty who teach these subjects do not view barrier free design as a significant issue within those domains. Thus, it is easy to understand why even recent graduates of professional schools have little knowledge about it. Architects learn most of what they know about accessibility in practice when they have to design buildings that meet the building codes.

The problem with this situation is that codes are generally viewed as "constraints" in the design process. Barrier free design, therefore, is a problem for architects, not an opportunity. The natural human inclination is to avoid problems whenever possible. Human nature unfortunately puts the burden on the building code and regulatory officials to insure that buildings at least comply with the law. Enforcement of codes is another weak link in the chain of accessibility which this report cannot address in depth. However, if professional education was more effective, the code enforcement issue would be less significant. Moreover, accessibility should not be considered only a regulatory issue. It should be considered part of good design in general and good design is taught in architectural schools.


Clearly, there is a need to improve professional education on the subject of barrier free design. Efforts have been made to develop such interventions in the past. The Gerontological Society ran a series of faculty development programs on Housing and Living Environments for older people in the 1970's. With sponsorship from the Society, Steinfeld and Schroeder (1973) developed a self-instructional learning module for use in a variety of educational contexts. The national architectural students honorary fraternity, Alpha Chi Rho, adopted barrier free design as one of their missions for a number of years, offering workshops for students, faculty and local professions, and compiling guides on campus accessibility. The National Easter Seals Society and the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association have assisted schools of architecture by organizing workshops, seminars and other awareness-raising programs. In addition, there are probably many other advocacy efforts directed at students and faculty of which I am not aware.

The most visible and well documented educational program in this field was implemented by Ray Lifchez, a faculty member at the U-C Berkeley Department of Architecture. He received a 2 year grant from the Exxon Foundation to develop an educational program through the regular studio curriculum. The program was carefully documented and resulted in an important publication, Rethinking Architecture (1987). This book describes the program and raises some fundamental issues about the nature of architectural education. The main thrust of the work at Berkeley was to involve several people with disabilities in the design studio activities so that they became personally known to the students. The consultants and faculty engaged the students in a rigorous dialogue about the designs in progress. The emphasis of the dialogue was on ethics, values and individual differences.

The Berkeley experience demonstrated the value of barrier free design to architectural education in general and the importance of involving people with disabilities in educational activities. However, the program was dependent upon the participation of some unusual people at a level of involvement not typically possible with volunteers. Moreover, despite its value and significance, it was limited to studio courses and, thus, only one educational strategy. Attempts to import the program to other universities failed for many different reasons (Lifchez, 1987, pp. 72-75).

This report describes an educational program completed at SUNYjBuffalo that sought to extend education in barrier free design through a more diversified approach. The program was completed with a much lower level of resources devoted to it, but, as at Berkeley, working within the regular curriculum. The objectives of the program were:

  1. identify and test methods for teaching barrier free design within a professional architecture program,
  2. experiment with the full range of content, from awareness and values to regulations and construction,
  1. integrate concepts and knowledge about barrier free design into several types of courses: studio, lecture/seminars, independent study and thesis work,
  2. develop recommendations for model curriculum in this field.

Educational Philosophy

The degree of success achieved in teaching barrier free design is directly related to how it is introduced as a body of knowledge within the educational context of the architectural school. Thus, as a background to the educational program, it is important to examine perspectives on knowledge within the profession and specifically, within academia.

Architecture is an ancient profession and it is also a profession, like most others, in transition. Aside from the obvious professional skills and activities of its practitioners, it has unique characteristics that distinguish it from Law, Medicine, Engineering and other well known professions. The primary difference is rooted in the duality inherent in an activity that has elements of both the visual arts and applied sciences. This has led to the evolution of a very real ambiguity about what architects do and a divergence of opinion within the profession about what they should do. This duality is not uncommon in other professional disciplines but, in architecture, is manifested more explicitly.

In his landmark work on professional thinking, The Reflective Practitioner, Schon (1983) argues that the dominant model of professional knowledge in the second half of the 20th century has been "Technical Rationality", the application of Positivist philosophy to professional activity. The view of professional practice supported by this model is "instrumental problem solving made rigorous by the application of scientific theory and technique" (p.21). Schon describes how this mode of professional thinking has had the most influence within academia, where the prevailing norm of scientific thinking was adopted by professional schools endeavoring to obtain respect and influence within the comprehensive university. Thus scholars in the professions of law, medicine and engineering developed systematic bodies of knowledge and general principles of practice based on theory.

However, this mode of thinking, Schon observes, is in contradiction to what professionals really do in action. Scientific theory and principles cannot be applied readily to many situations faced in the real world because there is often too much complexity and uncertainty surrounding them to apply rigorous methods. Science is an activity that seeks to develop a convergent knowledge base while professional practice deals with a real world that always has unique and unpredictable elements. Practitioners develop divergent thinking skills tailored to the unique requirements of their clients (Schon, 1983). In practice, professionals rely more on "know-how", heuristic thinking based on experience. Professional practice is very much like an art. It is as much concerned with structuring problems as it is with solving them.

Although the influence of Technical Rationality is certainly present in the profession of architecture, there is a real question as to whether it has had the level of influence that it has had on other fields. As an academic discipline, architecture originated in the European Beaux Arts tradition where it was considered a fine art to be taught, like other arts, through studio instruction from a "master". However, as the profession evolved into the modern era, "scientific" studies were added to the curriculum primarilyfrom engineering (building technology) and the natural sciences (mathematics) and, more recently from the social and behavioral sciences. But the Beaux Arts tradition lived on in the core studies conducted through studio instruction which relies heavily on modes of thinking more allied to the humanities thqn to engineering. The emphasis given to "artistic" ways of thinking as opposed to "scientific" ways of thinking varies from school to school depending on the prevailing modes of thought among the faculty at anyone time. These cannot even be attributed to the origins of a school within a technical institution or an academy of fine arts.

The notion that architecture is "problem solving" is a Technical-Rational perspective on the field. Archea (1987) argues that there is real evidence to indicate that architects are generally not as much concerned with problem solving as they are with "puzzle making". He proposes that architects view building design projects as unique opportunities to be "discovered and exploited". Thus, it is not always certain that they will solve problems; they may even create them. In his view, instrumental problem solving approaches are not consistent with the real strengths of professional practice. Thus, architects are not likely to be particularly interested in conventional scientific knowledge bases.

This observation goes a long way toward explaining the neglect given barrier free design by the profession. If architects are not really interested in solving problems, then they are likely to stress other issues in design than those that require technical solutions. However, that does not mean that barrier-free design will not be interesting to architects. It simply means that, to attract their attention and energies, it must be presented in a different way than as a pragmatic problem solving issue. If Archea is correct, it should be presented as an 1I0pportunityll rather than as a constraint. In fact, there are several good examples of how barrier free design has been used by architects in exactly this way.

Schon observed that skilled professionals follow a mode of thinking he characterizes as IIRefiection-in-Actionll. Each situation or case (as opposed to IIproblemll) is perceived by the professional as a unique research project. They deal with the uncertainty, instability, conflicting design goals and uniqueness by restructuring the situation. The best practitioners are skilled at surfacing and criticizing the tacit understandings that are embedded in common professional practices. It is through this reflection-in-action that they are able to develop new understandings, new perspectives and new approaches in order to deal with the divergent aspects of each case.

As opposed to Reflection-in-Action, the use of a Technical Rational model of knowledge has some severe drawbacks in practice. Schon observes that the rigor in method espoused by this model often leads to selective inattention to data when it does not fit the professional's understanding of a problem. Professionals sometimes force the problem into a mold that lends itself to the use of available techniques rather than exploring new methods. Moreover, they may limit their clients to those with whom their knowledge base will work, (another good explanation for the neglect discussed above). Schon does not imply that scientific knowledge bases are inadequate for use in professional practice, Rather, he argues that the problem solving approach used in science is not appropriate because it only works with well defined problems subject to means-end analysis. The challenge for the professions is developing ways to apply the convergent knowledge base of science to situations that demand divergent

knowledge and where the most desirable means and ends cannot be clearly determined.

Developing skills of reflective action implies an educational approach that exposes students to problems that have inherent uncertainty, instability, conflict and uniqueness, and, demands that they develop methods to deal with it. Instructors must also provide the students with guidance and tools to help them develop a reflective mode of action and knowledge bases that can be used as a point of departure for imaginative thinking. In this way, a dialogue of pragmatic and imaginative thinking can evolve. Unfortunately, the philosophies of many architectural educators do not support such a dialogue. Two inadequate approaches are common. One takes IIpuzzle makingll to the extreme in which the realities of the situation and the pragmatic issues that are inherent in most architectural contexts are ignored. The other is influenced too heavilybyTechnical-Rationality and treats architectural problems in a predominantly mechanistic way.

Usually, barrier free design is presented from a Technical Rational perspective. Thus, the proponents of IIpuzzle makingll reject such content as part of the core of architectural thought. They view such content as being peripheral to the creation of meaningful architecture. The proponents of Technical Rationality, on the other hand, present the subject as a normative problem solving approach-design by the rules. This, of course leads to the traps that Schon identified and ignores the reflective nature of professional thinking.

Lifchez' program at Berkeley, on the other hand, was an example of a Reflection-in-Action approach. The students were faced with a situation they had never come close to experiencing before. They were asked to design unique buildings for very idiosyncratic clients and through intensive, direct contact with others they were forced to confront their own values and recognize the different and unique perspectives of the client. They were also forced to admit that the professional (Le.student) is not the only source of lIexpertll knowledge. Through this process, the students learned in two ways. First, they obtained an increased awareness about disability. Second, they learned basic skills in architecture by practicing reflective thinking in design. Thus, the educational experience was

perceived as a valuable and integral part of professional education by both the students and the faculty alike.

The major lesson for architectural educators that surfaced from the Berkeley experience is that teaching barrier free design can be a very effective way to teach Architecture, with a big "A". In Lifchez and Winslow's words, it was a process of "redefining architecture". The educational approach and content served as a way to reflect about the nature of architecture in relation to the users of buildings and, through this experience redefine the traditional approach to professional action.

As a consequence of the educational philosophy adopted in the Berkeley program, limited attention was given to the detailed technical aspects of accessibility. At Berkeley, other educational missions were given higher priority and I am not questioning their decision on this matter. The fact remains, however, that we still need to find ways to educate professionals about the technical issues. Asking users it not sufficient. Knowledge about accessibility is certainly not considered to reside solely within the domain of a professionally held knowledge base. On the other hand, the architect is granted authority and thus takes responsibility for the public's health, safety and welfare. As such, the professional must be familiar with the technical knowledge about these issues and how to apply it with reason and creativity. The knowledge base does not have to be presented, however, using a normative approach. Even when the focus is on building codes, it can be made clear that they are not the final word and that the issues extend beyond pragmatic concerns to aesthetics· and to the meaning of architecture.

Barrier free design itself needs redefinition. Typically, the term is defined as designing for people with disabilities. Over the last five years, a growing perception within the "movement" is that this definition is narrow and self defeating. People without disabilities cannot identify with the need for barrier free design on a personal level; it is perceived as something for "them" rather than "USII. The concept of "universal designll has been proposed as a new, more appropriate definition. "Universal design strives to make every place and product work better for everybody" (Ringwald, 1988). Every effort should be made to extend the concepts of barrier free design to the larger population. Accessibility and usability of the

environment can be understood within a historical context. These design goals can be viewed as part of an evolutionary trend toward a closer "fitll between people and the built environment. The idea of a sink that can be adjusted in height, for example, is really no different than an adjustable automobile seat. Better "fit'" in turn, is considered desirable because it responds to the American socio-political ideal of independence and autonomy.

Educational Program

Barrier free design can be taught at many levels:

  1. creating awareness, e.g. significance ofthe subject, knowledge of issues, historical perspective, etc.
  2. integrating the topic into professional thinking, to good design in general, e.g. social and psychological implications, theory, aesthetics, etc.
  3. general technical understanding, e.g. human factors criteria, cost implications, building products, building regulations, etc.
  4. in depth specialist understanding, e.g. research issues and methods, organized knowledge bases, development of new tools and techniques, etc.

The approach taken at SUNY was to develop educational initiatives at each of these levels. The resources were limited only by the personnel and money available. At the time, I was the only faculty member at the School of Architecture and Planning with an educational interest in the sUbject. A research assistant was available to help with the educational effort and to document results. No money, however, was available to pay for consultants, field trips or special instructional resources such as audio-visual materials. On the other hand, the Adaptive Environments Laboratory has an extensive library of resource materials. Another major resource was the availability of a full scale modeling system developed for use in laboratory research on accessibility (see Steinfeld, 1990 for a complete description). Finally, the School's Computer Aided Design Laboratory provided assistance and support to several

individual students and one studio class.

I had sole responsibility for the content and focus of three regularly scheduled courses. My role of in the Department is loosely defined as "social issues". At the time, my assigned courses included two lecture/seminar courses. In the fall, I taught an environment-behavior course. In the spring I taught a course on architectural programming. Each semester I also taught an upper level design studio in which the subject matter varied. Because of the nature of these courses, I could focus any of them on various aspects of barrier free design. The Department has a community service program through which students receive academic credit for technical assistance work completed for non-profit community agencies. Students in a second professional Masters degree program are required to complete the equivalent of a thesis, which, until recently was euphemistically entitled "terminal project" (all graduate students in the Department are now required to complete a thesis). Both community service and thesis work can be done under the supervision of any faculty member.

If barrier free design is offered as a regularly scheduled elective course, there is no guarantee that anyone will take it. But, the courses I taught were all options for required courses. All graduate students have to take one course in environment-behavior studies. All second year studio students (includes both undergraduate and graduate students) had to take one course in architectural programming. All graduate students had to take a certain number of studio courses. Although, in theory, they could all have avoided my courses, in practice, they could not because the available options were limited. Moreover, I am not an unpopular teacher, although I do have a reputation for making the students work pretty hard. In summary, I did not have to worry about attracting students because I knew they would be enrolled in the courses.

Taking advantage of the freedom available to develop many opportunities for education in barrier free design, I decided to make a unilateral and somewhat surreptitious re-focusing of our curriculum by introducing content on barrier free design in as many ways as possible. I made no attempt to engage other faculty nor did I make any announcement of my intent. In this way, there was no hint that an "experiment" or "special program" was underway nor was there any controversy over content or methods. It was just a faculty member exercising his prerogative to determine the specific content of his courses. In line with this low keyed approach, I also conducted no formal evaluations other than the standard student evaluations given out at the end of the semester. The validity of any formal evaluation would have been in question, in any event, since the number of students in each course was small and there were no comparable courses taught by the same professor.

I taught each of the three courses this way, during 1987-88. I taught two studio courses with a focus on accessible housing. Through my contacts with the advocacy community in Buffalo, I was also able to provide two community service opportunities. One student elected to complete his Masters Thesis on a computer application related to accessibility. Another student, a young architect from Brazil, arrived at the School during this period to study as an exchange visitor at the Adaptive Environments Laboratory. He subsequently became the first Masters student to develop a concentrated program in adaptive environmental design. In addition, three other Master students are beginning thesis on issues related to barrier-free design and another student has recently enrolled in the Master's program who has a specific interest in this subject. The courses and a short description of their content are described below.

Design Studio: Adaptable Low Rise Suburban Housing

A major challenge in the design of contemporary housing is how to respond to the diversity of household needs and lifestyles common in contemporary society. Adaptable housing, in the sense of barrier free design, means housing that is basically accessible and that can be easily modified to meet the specific needs of a variety of individuals (see Steinfeld, et. aI., 1979, Steinfeld, 1980 and Barrier Free Environments, 1987). Such housing is actually one response to the larger challenge. But, the same term, in a more general sense can also be used to refer to housing that can accommodate the needs of a variety of different households (see, for example, Habraken, etal, 1981).

Researchers from the S.A.R. group in the Netherlands have developed a methodology to design adaptable mass housing that leads to great diversity among dwelling units in the same building. The basic concept is to divide the parts of a building into "supporting structure" and "detachable units" (see Fig. 1). The former are fixed in place, universal components that remain the same in all units. The latter are parts of the building that may vary from unit to unit. The detachables are usually constructed in less permanent materials or demountable components so that they can be modified should residents desire changes after construction or if new residents with different needs take over occupancy of any unit. The result is the development of high density housing forms that have the flexibility to be customized for individual households in the manner of single family homes.

Integrating the two concepts into one idea means that the term "adaptable housing" reflects a concern for three facts of modern life:

  1. the traditional nuclear family household with one working spouse, a homemaker and children is no longer predominant,
  2. the meaning of home has changed to incorporate a diverse array of activities, notably, the home as a workplace,
  3. one or more residents of any household may have limitations in physical, sensory or mental abilities.

This concept of adaptability reflects the philosophy of universal design, but extended to the building design and house plan as well as physical elements. It is based on the recognition that the environment should adapt to the person and the family rather than the other way around. From a pedagogical point of view, this concept provides the opportunity for students to apply the same way of thinking to all aspects of housing design, reinforcing the adaptability perspective and giving it deeper meaning.

The project for this studio was based on this integrated concept of adaptable housing. It was also dedicated to exploring new forms of accessible housing. Heretofore, the emphasis has been on multifamily, elevator equipped buildings or on single family homes. There has been much less attention to low rise high density housing types. In addition, research on accessible housing has generally been separate from design of housing. However, using the concept of reflective practice as proposed by Schon, this course acknowledged that design can be practiced as an inquiring activity in which an existing knowledge base is adapted for application to unique situations. New ideas and concepts and new problems to investigate through research can evolve out of this process.

The theme of the studio was to explore the extended concept of adaptable housing as described above. There were two specific goals with respect to universal design. The first was to explore the implications of designing accessible housing within a suburban context where mUltistory/corridor plans would not be suitable. An emphasis was placed on generating designs that allowed severely disabled people to live as independently as possible and gain full use of project facilities. The second was to experiment with the integration of research and education in accessibility. This was accomplished by informing the design process with the knowledge gained from ongoing research and by informing the research with an inquiring design process that could help to identify research issues to be investigated in the future.

In order to focus the students' attention on the critical issues of adaptable design, the following assumptions were made:

  1. A set of site plan options were given, assuming that prior research had identified the best approach for the location and market.
  2. Building density was limited to a minimum of 10 dwelling units per acre, using low-rise housing, no higher than 4 stories.
  3. A system of modular co-ordination was used, allowing the separate design of units, components, and supporting structure. By using the same system for the entire class, interchangeability of solutions was promoted.
  4. The design of the dwelling unit was separated from the design of the supporting structure. This allowed units to vary independently of the structure, and thus better accommodate diversity in needs.
  5. The buildings were designed "from inside out" in order to explore the aesthetic impact of forms that had to accommodate great diversity in dwelling unit plans.

The project began by familiarizing the students with the wide range of housing needs and general requirements of households and individuals, both disabled and able-bodied. This process also helped to alleviate any common stereotypes associated with disability that the students might have had. In order for the students to get a better understanding of the range of needs among households, a role-playing exercise was developed. Four people with disabilities from the community joined the students in this endeavor. All participants were grouped into "households" and "architects", in a way that ensured that every student played "architect" and "household head" at least twice during the sessions. Every "household head" was given a short script, developed by the instructor, in which a profile of "their" family was outlined (see Fig. 2).

After the role-playing sessions, every student "architect" was responsible for providing the class with a thorough description of the needs of the families they interviewed. Class meetings were used to familiarize everybody with the entire set of profiles and to adjust the formulated program requirements to the "budgets" that each

household had been given in the original "script" (see Fig. 3-4).

While this process was taking place, the students received a series of lectures about typical design approaches to adaptable housing, including concepts of modular coordination, user participation and universal design. Literature about accessible design was made available to the students, and class meetings were held where the validity of design recommendations was discussed.

Students began their design by planning three dwelling units using the household briefs as a basis. Each student chose households that represented a range in size and quality of dwelling unit with respect to the full set of households. The objective was to develop a small set of unit types that, with simple variations, could accommodate as many of the families as possible.

During this phase, the instructor began recording new ideas and research questions that the students generated, using the Analysis Card Technique (Pens, 1977). This technique allowed both sharing of the information between the students and a quick response to the creative process.

The development of ideas was thoroughly documented during the course of the project. Innovative concepts have been grouped in the Appendix. Fig. 5 shows some example cards. In the next phase of the project, the student focused their efforts in the desing of a specific space or building component of the dwelling unit with the objective of applying universal design concepts at a more detailed level. The ANSI A117.1 (1986) Standards was used to establish basic design guidelines.

A bathroom and a cabinet concept designed by two of the students were erected and tested using the full scale modeling apparatus developed for this project. The testing was done by students simulating disabilities and by severely disabled people from the community who had participated in the role playing phase (see Fig. 6). The information obtained through this process was used to revise the space/component design.

Each student then designed a project that accommodated the households studied, illustrating how the dwelling units would be adapted for each of them. Several basic approaches to accessibility were investigated during this phase of the project. Examples of the work are shown in Fig. 7 through 10.

The analysis cards illustrate the design ideas and research questions that were generated during the studio. Although they are reviewed here, please refer to the cards themselves for more detail.

The sharing of bathroom fixtures was investigated by several students as an important issue of adaptable housing design. In the role playing and discussions it became clear that a family member with a disability could be a child, an adult or a grandparent. A guest may be disabled as well. Should all bathroom fixtures therefore be accessible? We decided that this was not necessary but that sharing of bathroom fixtures in some way may help to increase the level of access and also add a new dimension to the design of bathrooms. Thus, two bedrooms sharing a grooming area provides more flexibility in using the bathroom because it does not have to be time-shared; there is also greater maneuverability for wheelchair access and it provides better storage potential. As another example, the use of a shower room to link two bathrooms together internally provides accessible bathing options from both bathrooms.

Basic planning of the dwelling unit also received a lot of attention. Three excellent options were identified for planning accessibility and achieving diversity in unit plans: centralized circulation, central spine and racetrack. Each one affects circulation by reducing travel distance to a minimum and yet they all allow a variety of different unit plans to be easily generated off a basic scheme.

A third major issue was the provision of elevator access in walk-up apartments or in two story dwellings. We recognized that many people with disabilities have the resources to afford a small elevator. In a walk up apartment, people without disabilities who live upstairs may be willing to share the cost of installing such a device simply for convenience. Two students identified ways to plan shared entries and stairwells to accommodate installation of such lifts. Three types of access can be achieved with the same basic configuration. It is also possible to plan two story dwelling units so that closet space on both floors can be easily converted to a private elevator shaft in the future if it should be needed.

Providing unloading space for wheelchairs in a garage was uncovered as a major space planning problem. In the role playing exercise, it became clear that two wheelchair users, each with their own vehicle, may occupy the same dwelling. How can enough space be provided to keep the garage from becoming very wide while still allowing full accessibility? Two solutions were identified. Another student discovered a way to eliminate the need for extra space in a garage for a lift by using a vestibule or IImud room".

Several other interesting ideas were developed related to the design of dwelling units. Rethinking the children's area of a home to conceive it as a single unit rather than a set of individual rooms can help to provide more usable space and more accessibility. Planning a kitchen as a continuous circle combines a highly efficient workspace for anyone with an interesting architectural form. The idea of a "convertible" bathroom fixture could respond to the need for assisted bathing for children and justify more expense in the provision of accessible bathing and showering. Our experiments with using a wheelchair in the full scale model bathroom identified the great inconvenience caused by the need to open and close doors. Careful planning of doorways can reduce that need by providing visual privacy even when doors are left open.

The focus on building components generated a number of interesting design ideas. In a shared grooming area, it may be advantageous to have two sinks mounted at different heights. This could be a marketing feature for households with children as well as for accessibility purposes. The need to have a convenient way to close a door from a wheelchair can be addressed by pulling devices on the back of doors. Two unique ideas were developed for storage units -one that moves and another that conforms closely with the arc of comfortable reach. The need to have grab bars extend beyond the leading edge of a toilet presents constraints in the planning of bathrooms. A sliding door with an integral bar might help to eliminate that constraint and still provide the support where necessary. In fact, it would also allow the use of two bars at different heights that might facilitate transfers. The lower bar set near the rear would provide an assist for pushing off and the higher bar at the front for pulling up. Another idea was directed at improving the appearance and utility of grab bars at tubs or showers -combining functions of bar and storage shelf. The concept of a "vertical drawer" would improve access to storage at the grooming area. In a loft apartment, a movable stairway/lift unit could provide many alternatives in space planning.

In the course of design, the class uncovered several interesting research questions. Most are related to bathroom design which we found to be the most difficult accessibility problem. Is it possible to have access to a bathroom from two bedrooms in some way? Can showers between 36 in. and 60 in be made safe and accessible? In a half bath, would it be acceptable to substitute a towelette dispenser for a sink under certain conditions? Is it possible to develop a wall/plumbing system that would allow small scale plan adjustments as needed? Are open shelves an acceptable alternative to kitchen cabinets?

The four projects illustrated here were the best solutions. Each one demonstrates how adaptability can be achieved using a different type of housing.

The first (Fig. 7) is a scheme for small buildings, each with 3-5 units. The basic supporting structure provides a garage on the first floor plus one ground floor unit. On the second floor there could be one or two dwelling units. The third floor could have one or two more units. The best configuration would be two units on the second and one large penthouse unit on the top. The concept allows a great deal of variety in space planning because each unit has at least three outside walls. All the units could be made fully accessible using a small residential elevator in the stairwell area. The use of overhangs and porches creates a highly dynamic and three dimensional exterior.

The second scheme (Fig. 8) combines a court house concept on one side of the street with a townhouse concept on the other. The court house was discovered to be a very good house form for accessibility purposes when utilizing the spine circulation approach. It also has great potential for meeting the needs of a variety of households. The single story plan, however, limits the density of court house developments. The townhouse units increase the overall density and provide an alternative house form that could still be made accessible albeit with more difficulty.

The third (Figs. 9) is a scheme for townhouse units. The supporting structure is a set of three dimensional modules that can be arranged in many different combinations. They are all organized around a central circulation module. Two story units could have private residential elevators in the central unit to provide access to the upper floor. The additive nature of this design using traditional house forms resulted in an aesthetic that allows great variety in the overall composition yet still conveys a unified and traditional appearance.

The last scheme (Fig. 10) is an adaptation of a conventional walkup garden apartment. It allows complete accessibility to the ground floor units and there is potential to add an elevator in the stairwell area. The units are planned around the racetrack circulation concept and allow a great deal of flexibility in plan within a uniform exterior perimeter. The exterior is decidedly modern in style using prefabricated panel construction. Since parking is grouped in lots, this scheme has the highest density of the four and would provide a relatively low cost solution.

Design Studio: Accessible Housing Competition

Although I would have liked to continue the development of the housing studio begun the previous year, the opportunity arose to offer a competition for students in schools of architecture in New York State. The competition was sponsored by Eastern Paralyzed Veterans of America, the State Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities and the New York State Association of Architects (AlA). The project was a major housing project for downtown Syracuse, New York. All the units were to be adaptable and the housing project was to accommodate both people without and people with disabilities. The competition program did not specify the number of housing units to be included on the site but, there were two important stipulations. The first was that the site should be used only for housing and the second a requirement to design high rise structures.

I had originally planned to extend the work done in the previous housing studio by introducing computer aided design as a new tool. Although the competition project was different than the one I intended to offer, I decided to incorporate CAD tools anyway. This decision, however, attracted a certain type of student to the studio -those who were eager to learn CAD techniques. Moreover, it resulted in another serious limitation as we got underway. The CAD program we were using was still under development and had many "bugs" that manifested themselves at the wrong time. A great deal of time during the semester was wasted recovering from these problems. The scale of the competition project was so large that the urban design issues dominated the early development of the students' designs. Although I had intended to include consumer participation and full scale modeling as in the previous project, the time required to learn the CAD system and recover from the "crashes" and the added time necessary for solving the urban design problems prohibited including these activities. On the other hand, the CAD tools allowed me to explore another approach to teaching barrier free design.

After two minor introductory projects designed for teaching the CAD tools and studying housing prototypes, the competition project began. There were three phases to the work:

  1. urban design,
  2. dwelling unit and building design,

3. design development.

In the urban design phase, stude~t analyzed the site and developed schemes that would demonstrate sensitivity to the surrounding context. Attention was given at this time to developing building concepts that would enhance accessibility. From an urban design perspective, this meant access to amenities and parking on the site and providing convenient paths of travel between the housing structures and destinations in the CBD. All students gave attention to the development of a building concept that would facilitate use of amenities and neighboring by all people. During this phase, massing of the building was also an important issue. One student focused on a massing concept that would provide fire refuges for non-ambulant people on each floor by using roof tops of the floor below. Others developed massing schemes that would provide a range of dwelling unit types, including some with direct on-grade access. The CAD system was used at this time to build a model of the CBD. Each student had access to that model for their own use. A perspective view from any vantage point could be taken of the CAD model.

In the next phase, students did research on the design of dwelling units. Each student was assigned a room to research. The class then built a CAD "Library of Spaces" for every typical room in a dwelling unit. All students in the class had access to the Library for future use in developing their own designs. Three dimensional models were developed that displayed the range of possibilities of each space, including furniture arrangements. None of the spaces in the Library were designed to be accessible. Eachstudent then used the Library to design their own dwelling units and buildings within the constraints of their urban design proposal. They copied examples of the room types and, as with building blocks, constructed crude dwelling unit designs. Then, they modified the designs by adjusting dimensions and configurations introducing accessibility features as necessary.

In the last stage of the project, students developed their schemes further focusing on elevations and detailed features. The competition program required the inclusion of a special accessibility feature in the project. The students generated a number of interesting ideas including construction details for adaptable counters, the aforementioned emergency refuge approach and an interior design scheme for small apartments eliminating doors. Figs. 11-13 show some of the projects.

All three prizes awarded in the competition were to students in the SUNY/Buffalo class. Thus, some of the students clearly learned enough about accessibility to be recognized by a jury of professionals. The project demonstrated to the student that accessibility issues go beyond the code to infiltrate many of the basic design decisions made about housing, even those related to urban design. From my perspective, as the instructor, however, this studio was less satisfactory than the previous experience. Although both served as mechanisms to broaden thinking about barrier free design, the first studio included opportunities for the students to have more fundamental experiences -the participation of people with disabilities and the full scale modeling. The designs developed in the first studio were more creative and exhibited more investigation of accessibility and universal design. I believe that the urban design issues and the use of CAD limited the possibilities for the semester.

In retrospect, an important lesson was learned. When teaching adaptable housing design, the emphasis should be on the design of the unit and building. Anything that takes time away from these tasks detracts from the main mission. Thus, in the development of studio programs, reducing the complexity of the site planning and urban design issues frees up time to devote to detailed research and awareness raising activities like full scale modeling and design participation. CAD tools can be effective in teaching about accessibility but, care should be taken to make sure that all the students know how to use the system before beginning the project and that the program and facilities are supportive. CAD tools like the Library of Spaces can be used most effectively if they are already prepared as resources for the studio. In fact, this would help to focus more on the accessibility issues because preliminary research and design tasks would already be completed.

Housing Competition -Jerry Vargas Housing Competition -Carl Neuremberger Housing Competition -Penny Halen