Architectural Emancipation

Hydraulic lift at the Villa in Bordeaux
Hydraulic lift at the Villa in Bordeaux

By Alison Grittner, Program Coordinator – RAD Renos

Over 400,000 Albertans live with mobility limitations; medical disability becomes architectural disability due to the way we build our homes and environments. People without mobility issues routinely accomplish their daily tasks and movement with ease, but persons with mobility challenges experience constant effort and barriers doing life basics: showering, cooking, going shopping, watching a game at the pub, or just moving about their home. The design and construction of buildings and places creates hazards and barriers as well as making the built environment inconvenient, uncomfortable, and unsafe for many.

As the Program Coordinator for RAD Renovations I constantly problem-solve with home modifications to mitigate architectural disability, striving for Calgarians to live connected and frictionless lives in their homes and communities. My job wouldn’t be necessary if we designed spaces for diverse bodies and abilities instead of just for the upright and two-footed.

What would our homes and cities look like if we designed and built for everyone? My favourite architect, Rem Koolhaus, designed the Villa in Bordeaux for wheelchair user and his family. The core of the house is a large hydraulic platform that allows the wheelchair user to move effortlessly between each floor of the house. In fact, the floors of the house are only complete when the wheelchair user and the hydraulic platform are present. The Villa in Bordeaux doesn’t treat disability as an afterthought or hindrance, placing it at the creative centre of design.

Most architectural disability stems from two issues: changes in level or insufficient space. What would it mean if we all started to design projects with the understanding that ten percent of all future users will be rolling through the space instead of walking? If we design houses, buildings, and outdoor spaces to be experienced via longboard, stroller, bicycle, rollerblades, scooters, and, yes, wheelchairs, we’ll have more fun and joy in addition to ensuring all community members are made welcome in their homes and public spaces.

To see a video about the Villa in Bordeaux: CLICK HERE