Icons Should Be Respected
When is a building new? When is it old? Theseare subjective words, but in architecture, every building - old or new - deservesrespect. Every building also wants to serve a purpose for as long as possible.These days conservation, heritage and legacy are priorities in our industry. So,if a new building can be made accessible in every sense, so can an old one.
Cicero’s CatoMaior de senectute analysed all the advantages of old age, though he mighteasily have applied his logic to our environments. Even in our legislation, thewords ‘if possible’ are inserted here and there when it relates toaccessibility, as if it is an optional extra.
It is hard work, even with new buildings, toachieve seamless accessibility and still make a piece of good architecture - whichis the key to universal design. There are many iconic old buildings that seem impossibleto make accessible, without sacrificing something, but it has been done - andin a way which is almost indiscernible - even in places like Oxford University.Why would we architects want it otherwise? To exclude people from our buildingsand spaces is not an option. In some cases the intervention of an accessibleroute has become the general way of observing antiquities and artifacts. Soaccessibility is integrated into the building’s external area to suiteverybody.
It is quite difficult to persuade people thatconservation means upgrading conveniences, and one of these conveniences inSouth Africa is access for everyone. This would also make good business senseas punted by the Architectural Record ‘goodbuildings mean good business’.
In Durban several of our harbour buildingshave been successfully made accessible and safe, and more importantly usableand sustainable, by the interventions done on them.
For me Durban’s Workshop Shopping Centre isone of the most successful recycled buildings in Durban. The wayfinding isbetter than at the Pavilion or Gateway, and it has retained its flavour. Wayfindingis of course one of the common fundamentals of good architecture and universaldesign. The Promenade on the beachfront is also one of our oldest builtelements, and it has been drastically changed twice while I’ve been in Durban. Itstill retains its ethos and many of its memories, even though some of the‘clutter’ that I liked did not survive FIFA.
What is really clear is that conservation andaccessibility are often considered as contradictory; just as safety andsecurity interventions in buildings also defeat each other. Safety requiresthat an external door be exit-able from inside, and security says it must belocked and not usable from inside or out. In high-end buildings this can beachieved with electronic controls, but for every day restaurants, suburbansupermarkets and so forth this is too sophisticated. One sees the olderbuildings in New York with metal fire escapes tacked on to the outside, becausethey have been updated and now satisfy safety legislation.
One doesn’t fancy having obvious universalaccess elements intruding in fine old buildings, but if architects can applythemselves to the notion that no sacrifices should have to be made by anyone tosatisfy the needs of all of us, then it is a win-win situation. It is notacceptable to perpetuate the parts of older buildings that do not allow all peopleto continue using them with safety.