Accessible levels at Ed Roberts Campus. Credit: Paul Barnard

+ Architecture should make an effort to create environments that are inclusive – places that celebrate diversity and difference.

Throughout history architecture has been used to segregate, separate and discriminate. In this day and age, we as an industry should make an effort to focus on creating environments that encourage social interaction, integration, communication and respect – places that celebrate diversity and difference. In other words, it should be inclusive.

History is full of examples of how architecture has been used to create segregation and separation within a community. You can see this in the idea of a downstairs for servants and an upstairs for their masters. And you can see it in plantations, which were designed to enforce the imposed hierarchy of master over slave through location, quality and architectural finishes. 

Even today, ‘poor doors’ provide separate entrances within residential developments for residents of affordable housing. Legislation such as the European Convention on Human Rights is supposed to ensure that people are not discriminated against because of their social class. Yet these entrances serve as visible, physical markers of the differences between our neighbours and us.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Take the Galehead hut, for example – a 38-bed lodge at the top of the Appalachian Mountains, rebuilt by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Some people questioned why the lodge needed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), arguing that wheelchair users would not be able to reach the lodge up the rugged 4.6-mile trail. 

When the lodge reopened, disabled people from the University of New Hampshire’s Northwest Passage programme proved the critics wrong and made the trek there. But when reaching the lodge, the group were challenged with the question: If you can negotiate the trail, surely you don’t need the ramp at the lodge entrance as you can use the steps? Jill Gravink, the programme’s director, responded by saying: “Why bother putting steps on the hut at all? Why not drag yourself in through a window?'” 

This serves as a reminder for us to continually challenge perceptions of what’s ‘normal’. By challenging (or removing) the idea of normal, we can widen our capabilities as designers of the built environment and better serve our users. 

Rethinking conventional architecture provides a blank canvas, opening possibilities for innovation and inclusivity within the built environment. 300 years ago, the prospect of a lift was inconceivable – now, they can be found in almost every building. 

By accepting that all people, regardless of circumstance, deserve the same opportunities to participate within society (such as trekking up a mountain with their peers), architecture becomes something that enables a world where everyone can participate equally.