Teaching at the UKZN Architecture School has taught me a lot. Of course, I always focus on buildings being eminently suitable for everyone, so the practicality is a given, as far as I am concerned.

Vitruvius first coined the principles of“commodity, firmness and delight”, and I like to say: “the greatest of them all is ‘delight’.” Many eco buildings are so sustainable, and fashionable and well built - but fail in the pursuit of delight.

When Universal access is mentioned, most people think that, in addition to being more expensive, the building or environment will also not be aesthetically pleasing. Neither of these is true. Usually, ifit is built into the project at conceptual stage, it will not lead to more thana 0.2% increase in the cost. It will however lead to higher rentals being obtained for upper levels.

I’ve often seen developments that are two storeys, having the ground floor units, in offices or residential units sold long before the upper units if they are not provided with lifts. Actually if there are lifts, the upper units will command higher rentals and quicker sales than the ground floor units. It really makes business sense. It might even lead to doing less building and getting more rental for what you’ve got, so your budget can be the same.

Trying to get this sort of thing across to students is really difficult: but it also opens ones eyes to what is taken for granted in these times. No one seems to leave out security checkpoints, or fireresponsibilities. They also can’t get round to thinking of universal design as beinguseful for everyone, and not just people with disabilities. They tend to add infacilities at the end of the project they are working on.

Not much different to the real world I suppose. I had a call today from a facilities manager wanting to get the building she was responsible for accessible for a particular wheelchair user; no need to worry about other impairments! And the wheelchair user in any case would have to use the service lift. This is in the CBD of Durban.

It’s really going to take a long time to catch up with what should be done in the field of universal access. It still seems to be believed that it is only new buildings that should be accessible to everyone. All buildings except: single houses, store-rooms (warehousing) plantrooms and filling stations should be accessible to everyone. It is a rights issue. It goes beyond permanent disabilities to include those temporarily disabled, like people carrying luggage; or those wearing high heels; or mothers with children and babies in push chairs, and elderly people. So it really is quite a large proportion of the population.

I met someone this week who had lost a leg. Sheis an amputee and her life has been made miserable, because of access problems -as she uses a wheelchair. She and her husband used to go on holiday to guesthouses around the country, now they have to book in at hotels, as most guesthouses are not accessible, and the owners think that this is okay. She thinks it’s her fault that she can’t go to these places, but it is actually the environments’ - which have been carelessly built. She will probably take time to realize that she canget on top of it, but it’s a pity that more people are not aware of how environments can shape your life.

Delight will only come when buildings, and the spaces between them, suit the broadest range of people and embrace everyone.

ri-dot