Cubo Arkitekter A/S's Per Ravn shares his account of the House of Disabled People's Organisations designed with Force4
Disabled People's Organisations Denmark
The unique thing about the disabled people's associations in Denmark is the fact that they are gathered under one umbrella. Despite considerable differences between the individual organisations, the general consensus is that the scope for generally promoting the issues of disabled people is greater when you join forces. Approximately 20 different organisations are now represented in the House of Disabled People's Organisations, forming the basis for close collaboration resulting in a new dynamic synergy. The organisations' objective with this new house was to create 'the World's Most Accessible Office Building'. High ambitions and a complex task where intense user involvement and a new strategic approach proved to be the way forward to achieve that goal.
By building the design strategy around Universal Design where the main focus is on the principles of 'equal access', the House of Disabled People's Organisations is a fully accessible building that can be used equally by all. Solutions that support and encourage all users to be as self-reliant as possible have been incorporated. Solutions should not just be unbiased in their conceived form, but it is equally important that they prove to be a dignified solution for the individual person using them. When considering unbiased solutions, we have had a very strong focus on the numerous contradicting interests regarding the physical environment that exist among the various groups of disabled people, but knowledge and understanding gained in respect of the individual has made it possible to find the optimal compromise and hence the best solution for everyone.
Accessibility is often associated with the guidelines set out in our building regulations, but working with Universal Design does not merely demand extensive knowledge about requirements and standards, but perhaps even more importantly, adequate knowledge and understanding of the needs of the functionally disabled users. The building, therefore, is the result of a process in which accessibility is not based on building regulations, but on detailed information about the users. Such knowledge is essential in order to be able to build with full accessibility for everyone.
Clarity and navigation
The House of Disabled People's Organisations as well as the surrounding area lend themselves to easy and intuitive navigation. By using simple methods and clear routes that naturally lead the body on its way, it is possible to help the majority of users to navigate: signs that can be seen and touched, or corridors where light, shadow, colour, and form define directions. In the House of Disabled People's Organisations, for example, a blind person will be able to navigate using the corners in the atrium's five-cornered shape and easily find his/her way to the office areas in the building. Had the atrium been designed in a round shape, navigating in it would seem like being in a perpetual motion machine in which the blind person would continue to walk round and round. This example shows that general design and Universal Design are closely linked; a fact which has had major influence on the design of the House of Disabled People's Organisations.
A standard for the future
The House of Disabled People's Organisations is a pioneering project confirming the fact that accessibility will not only be substantially improved, but that it can be done without the total construction costs rising above those of a similar construction project. Where formerly accessibility has resulted in unfortunate and tiresome extra additions in architecture, we have now shown that it is possible to achieve an unbiased, universal design without stigmatising additions, but alone by designing the relevant solution from the start. With the right working methods and timely implementation of knowledge, the House of Disabled People's Organisations show that unbiased buildings must become a standard in future construction.
Cubo Arkitekter A/S