Human Architecture

The Guggenheim Museum in New York, by Frank Lloyd Wright

Ron Mace coined the term Universal Design in the 1980’s but the history of architecture tells us that many architectural pioneers understood the changing nature of the human condition and used this to influence their designs. Ron Mace took this a stage further and expanded it to the built environment, but a look through history tells us that human architecture is not new.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed a wheelchair accessible home in the 1950’s where he adjusted one of his L shaped designs to include wider doorways and lower door handles. He also replaced hard to open cabinets and fold down hinges and included a roll under sink and seating throughout the house so guests would all sit at the same level.

One of his better-known designs, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, is designed around a ramp. I was fortunate to visit this impressive museum where the ramp was viewed as an aesthetic architectural element that also provided functional access for a wide range of people.

Similarly, architectural excellence was displayed at the Maison Bordeaux in 1998 by Rem Koolhaas when a unique house was designed for his client. The 3-level house was joined by a 10m2 elevator that also functioned as the main office. This feature office became a central focus point throughout the building, and also showed how the function of accessibility became the innovation of design.

These pioneers of modern architecture understood the human condition and created designs that incorporated this understanding, while pursuing innovative outcomes.

Universal Design is about understanding that disability is part of the human condition incorporating these needs into our new buildings and spaces. In other words, human architecture.

As always please feel free to contact me on geoff@lifemark.co.nz as we promote Universal Design to help everyone live the life they want.

Information for this opinion is based on an article “The qualities of Architecture in Relation to Universal Design” by Associate Professor Carolyn Ahmer, Western Norway University, Norway.

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