Good Looking

Attractive people are generally perceived more positively than unattractive people. Take Princess Diana.

Society was forgiving of her weaknesses because of her beauty.
There has been scientific research done on this theme over many years. I think it applies to environments too; because, I think, a building will be tolerated if it is aesthetically pleasing. Take the Sydney Opera House: I believe that the acoustics are not at all good; not caused by Jorn Utzon, the architect. He was not allowed to complete the building. He was asked to leave the site before the interiors were done. But all in all Australians have a National Treasure there, whose failings are tolerated, because they are balanced by its beauty.

Universal design asks that aesthetics not be compromised, and no sacrifices should be made to achieve it, as well as being useful for the broadest range of people.
A new bridge has recently been constructed over the Grand Canal in Venice, designed by one of my favourites, Santiago Calatrava. There have only been 3 bridges over the Grand Canal all these years in the wonderful city: and now this new one. It is 94m long, and at its middle 9m wide, so it is a large structure. Beautiful, beautiful, but not accessible to everyone! The Venetians themselves, in a city which must be intolerable for a large section of disabled people, have made a huge fuss about this, and prevented the official opening before something had been done about it.

I am not in favour of add-ons for ‘special needs’ but in this case that is exactly what has been done. It is a compartment in the shape of an egg, for only 2 people. Calatrava did not want it to intrude on his design, so it has been designed to commence and finish below the level of the bridge, and slide along its edge. I don’t know how it works exactly, but I am intrigued to find out and see it one day. It doesn’t sound like integration at all, but at least something has been done.

I recently came across a temporary ‘pavilion’ built in Kensington Gardens in London which was designed by Frank Gehry. There have been a series of these buildings built and dismantled over the last 8 years, all by different architects, and it is considered a privilege to be invited to do this. This one is set out on an axis line exactly on the centerline of the main entry to the Serpentine Gallery and is really quite rigid in plan. In the photographs that I saw before I visited it looked rather like a jumble of glass and timber. The timber is not actually from Britain, but is beautifully put together in a series of 2 monopitch arches, each of the members of identical size, with square timber members. Linked by 2 equal members, and over it all, a group of uneven glass and steel panels to shelter it. The centre of the area so enclosed is for performances, and there are stepped terraces on each side, obviously inaccessible to many disabled people. Lo and behold, in the one corner, a timber shaft incorporating a lift to the upper area so everything can be viewed from a slightly higher level as well.
Without this element it would appear unbalanced, so I have to believe that the designer did integrate this as part of his scheme.

In September I saw some new bridges in the scruffiest part of Glasgow, near the ship building yards on the River Clyde. Our accommodation looked out over the river, where the bridges were reflected at night. They are all accessible. It is so seamless that it is not at all obvious that it has been done on purpose: Universal Design at its best.

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