The dramatic changes in the world over these past two years have shifted the paradigm of inclusion from one of consideration to one of necessity. Areas of difference have been brought into focus and intensified. As a response, the values of equity, diversity, and inclusion are transforming many aspects of society. Within our industry, inclusive design is being recognized and embraced more than ever by businesses, institutions and governing bodies. It is acknowledged across sectors and global markets that focusing on belonging, human health and wellbeing fulfills an ethical responsibility and opportunity to do better.
Within our built environment, designing equitably can eliminate experiences of exclusion and address many disparities across the shared spaces we inhabit in our communities. Inclusive design is an approach that focuses on our vast human needs and our differences with respect to gender identity, ability, age, neurodiversity, race, culture and socioeconomic status. It considers ways in which these needs intersect, offering the opportunity to problem-solve, innovate and explore solutions which can benefit a broader cross-section of people because their diverse experiences have been included in the design process.
As part of a multidisciplinary team, BDP is leading the redesign of Singapore’s Geylang Serai market to include outdoor gathering areas, green spaces and new cycling lanes. Rich with Malay culture and heritage, the area’s surroundings have progressively evolved over time. By designing spaces that connect modern surroundings with the heritage of the area, we aim to create festive plazas and landmark structures that symbolize the transition of the area from a former Malay settlement to a vibrant community precinct. A newly designed gateway creates a welcoming sense of arrival, and the site utilizes smart-technology features to support people making their way around a beautiful, well-organized retail district.
Design of grade changes and pedestrian movement around the site included consideration of people using mobility devices such as wheelchairs, scooters and caregivers pushing strollers. This lead to thoughtfully resolved accessible paths of travel and clear separation of pedestrian flow from cycling lanes. The incorporation of smart wayfinding systems such as positioning technology, and in-ground pavement lighting sensors enhance pedestrian safety. The design of comfortable shading systems throughout the district and flexible outdoor furniture options further enhance the visitor experience and invite a more diverse group of people to the retail and cultural district.
Some of our most cherished projects are realized by co-designing with their intended occupants. Through this process, user groups are engaged to offer their perspectives and influence the design. The Daniels Corporation’s Accessibility Designed Program, brings inclusive real estate options to Canada and facilitates independence and ease of living for people who use mobility devices. These units integrate design elements that are challenging and costly to renovate post construction such as wider doorways, roll-in showers, and roll-out balconies, and will be made available in all of the developer’s future residential builds.
Axess Condominiums includes design that sets new standards for inclusion in Canada. Envisioned as a vibrant community, the project seamlessly integrates design strategies for people living with cognitive and physical disabilities, young families, and those aging-in-place. Early in the design process, our team facilitated engaging dialogue through co-design sessions to document many lived experiences from families and persons with cognitive and physical disabilities to inform the design parameters. As a result, all units are designed as accessible suites. Innovative features include a portion of units designed to higher levels of accessibility for aging-in-place, an area of refuge with daylight access on every floor to serve as community space in non-emergencies, a ground floor café to offer employment skills to young adults with cognitive disabilities, a sensory garden and service animal relief area for residents and visitors.
Through our work on the Teaching and Learning Building at the University of Birmingham, at its very early phases, we engaged with disability groups, students, faculty and staff with a lens on mental health, neurodiversity, physical and sensory-based disabilities to establish an overall approach towards inclusion within the project. This engagement process gave us a clear design brief to address diverse needs beyond current standards, codes and regulations and to innovate on proposed solutions. Conversations included the selection of interior finishes, furniture and colour psychology within the lecture and study spaces to support neurodiversity and to enhance the overall learning experience for occupants within these spaces. Through the engagement process, disability groups were kept informed with the progress of the designs and had the opportunity to test scenarios and share observations to inform the work. As a result, the Teaching and Learning Building creates an open, comfortable and supportive learning environment for all on the university campus.
We have embarked on Heritage for All, a two-and-a-half-year project that will research, propose and test new ideas aimed at developing accessible strategies for federally owned heritage properties, through funding from Accessibility Standards Canada. The project will involve a series of hybrid on-site workshops with individuals who experience an array of physical barriers – including users of mobility devices, persons hard of hearing or deaf, persons with low vision or blind, neurodiverse individuals, older adults, children and their attendants or caregivers to develop a deep understanding of a broad spectrum of experiences. Human Space will test the solutions with user groups and develop a publicly available report of the research and findings. The hope is that this initiative will inform and advance future national accessibility standards for federally owned heritage buildings.
Continuing to work on projects that make the built environment more inclusive with our clients in a wide range of sectors, global regions and communities is what motivates us. By prioritizing designs that focus on human diversity and inclusion, we have the potential to improve upon the inequities of today and to realize better outcomes for tomorrow.