Why design competitions are critical to achieving socially sustainable design
Neil Smith Head of Inclusive Design, BuroHappold Engineering talks about the challenges and relevance of inclusive design and why awards such as the RSA Student Design Award Inclusive Cities’ remain critical to achieving socially sustainable design
How do you design the built environment in a way that addresses the needs of all users from the outset? Whether you call it inclusive design or universal design the objective is the same – to put people at the heart of the design process from the beginning. An inclusive or universal approach contributes positively to making places better for people and is indivisible from the planning and design process.
The built environment can be a challenging place and sometimes we unwittingly introduce barriers which are not only physical but are a result of attitudinal or organisational approaches as to how those spaces might be managed. BuroHappold Engineering Inclusive Design understand the importance of delivering an inclusive environments, delivering socially sustainable design – adaptable and flexible design that doesn’t preclude people from the built environment and the services offered within those environments.
Inclusive design is about making places everyone can use. When creating inclusive cities, we employ a process which allows us to question how the users of the environments that we create will offer a single solution without separation and where that is not possible to offer choice where a single solution cannot accommodate all users. The long-held view that designing for disabled people is sufficient doesn’t take into account the wider range considerations we need to make, for example are the places suitable for older people or for families. In modern multi-cultural societies how do tackle faith requirements or the needs of LGBT communities. Although diverse, the unifying aspect is that we’re all people – and will have different requirements throughout our own lives.
Civil rights legislation sets out objectives in order to prevent discrimination and promote equality but in the UK it does not set out what the actual provision should be. UK statute and building regulation tend to approach physical requirements by setting out the minimum requirements (eg compliance based approach) rather than taking a wider view and encouraging good practice, which has a wider frame of reference. Therefore, to design inclusively, we need to engage design teams and stakeholders to understand the social aspects that a new community or development may require and work methodically through barriers (perceived or real) that the design may throw up.
Design of all scales can and should be more inclusive. The Office of Disability Issues and BuroHappold also know that inclusive design does not preclude outstanding architecture:
‘There are now many examples of built projects that demonstrate best practice, such as the award winning Library for Birmingham designed by Mecanoo Architects. BuroHappold’s Inclusive Design team provided access advice throughout the design and planning process, helping to make the library an exemplar [inclusive design] as per the client’s brief.’
Julie Fleck, Office for Disability Issues, Department for Work and Pensions
BuroHappold are proud to support the RSA Student Design Award Inclusive Cities’ Sponsored by the Office of Disability Issues. The 2015-16 competition is now open for entries. University students and recent graduates anywhere in the world can enter the Awards. The Inclusive Cities brief challenges the applicants to design an inclusive building, place, or space so that it is easily and comfortably accessed and used by everyone.
Commenting on the ‘Inclusive Cities’ brief, Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson said:
“I am very pleased to be supporting the Inclusive Cities RSA competition brief. It’s a great opportunity to highlight the importance of accessible design which can positively impact the lives of disabled people in the future.
I’m committed to ensuring that inclusive design is the norm in all design and building projects by embedding it in education and training. It’s not just the right thing to do, it also makes business sense to ensure disabled people can access buildings, galleries, cafes, theatres and more in their day to day lives.”
Like the Minister, we are committed to ensuring that inclusive design is the norm. We are excited to see how the next generation of designers use their creativity to tackle the issues raised by competition brief. Part of the prize is a two-month paid internship with the BuroHappold Inclusive Design team and we look forward to welcoming the winner to explore with us how we can make inclusive cities.