See Saw

Life is full of ups and downs: my ambition to have the Architectural Profession acknowledge and implement universal access into their built spaces too. In the United States they seem to divide their efforts into only those buildings and other environments which according to legislation are required to be ‘ADA Compliant’. Only about 5000 of the Yellow Cabs (the New York City Taxis) are accessible out of 13 000 vehicles. I’m not sure what makes the ones that are accessible accessible, but in such a forward looking country this is very disappointing. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) sets out people’s obligations and duties towards Persons with Disabilities, as does the Disability Discrimination Act in UK. However, in this country, the Department of Transportis really appearing to have this situation remedied, by installing a Universal Access Department to see that accessibility is built into all their projects, as laid out in legal imperatives. Our Constitution and Equality Act set out all people’s Rights, including those for PWDs. Let’s hope it’s not just talk and that the other professionals, employed in their projects, take this seriously. It takes a willingness and commitment to see this through, until it becomes automatic, and not a ‘special needs’ issue.

The Government is the largest Developer in the country. At the UKZN School of Architecture, the premises are being revamped.The buildings on the campus belong to all of us. The actual premises where the School is housed is in Shepstone Building, which is a modern-looking building built on the west facing hillside, with about 10 floors. It is not aconventional high-rise building as it clings to the ground on the absolute ridge, which faces east towards the sea too. There are lifts in it, as well as a series of escalators, from the lowest floor. Strangely though the 9thand 10th floors are only connected by staircases with open risers. This building was built in the seventies. The Post Graduate years are housed on these upper floors. It is completely inaccessible to wheelchair users and not at all comfortable for students and staff carrying drawings, laptops and models. It is infuriating that the Department still thinks that it is an optional extra to make it accessible. It is not as large in area as the lower floors, and I think it is considered acceptable because it excludes these floors to PWDs as well as elderly staff or parents, or persons recovering from illness or accident because of this.

The main entrance, from the east on to the 7th floor, of this building is a wide pedestrian ramp about 20 metres long and at agradient of 1:10 - which is not compliant with the Regulations as they standnow, but neither does it comply with the Regulations in use since 1987. Thereis no excuse for this and it sets a bad example to all these young students whowill be expected to look at Regulations in a sensible way when they leave theschool. I do not think this is one of the items they are revamping.

The maintenance at the school is very poor on the whole. Things which do not cost a lot, like the lighting, are badly neglected.In the design studio this is so important, and one wonders why, at the end of every year perhaps, or at least on a regular basis, this sort of thing is not attended to. We wonder why so many of the students are not interested in working in the studio, but take their work home: this must contribute to the lack of studio culture. The studios are often crowded, not cleaned properly and sometimes unsafe, but there comes a tipping point.

“Better fortune follows poor beginnings” Motto of Durban

As architects we do like to emphasise to clients (and students) that having a building is a responsibility, which requires daily care. As architects we also like to design spaces and places that are easy, and inexpensive, to care for. Mostly, when an architect has completed a project, that is when the life of the project begins, and the architect has no more input from then on! So we rely on good facilities management thereafter. In a house it is the housewife who usually does this job to protect the investment. The environmental lobby is basically asking us not to concentrate on reducing the capital cost of things, but to look at lowering the “Life Cycle Costs’ (LCC). This means that buildings would be more sustainable.