Pedagogies of building systems in architectural education are traditionally framed as the technical knowledge guiding construction, material applications, structures, and mechanical building services. This paper provides a framework and a case study for centering inclusive and universal design principles in the teaching of building systems with a focus on designing public spaces for rural and aging populations. It proposes methods for integrating design accountability, sustainable environmental practices, and cultural contexts into architectural design and education.
Public spaces, services, and resources are spread thinly outside of cities and denser communities, creating barriers to access for aging populations among others. This pedagogical framework for inclusive rural architecture focuses on post offices as one of the few public institutions in rural communities and a vital conduit to essential services (particularly during health crises). In the speculative space of architecture curriculum, students conceived of additional services and programs to rethink the role of post offices in communities. These programs targeted accessibility barriers by providing digital resource centers, transportation hubs, and community gathering spaces.
The flexibility, adaptability, and comfort at the core of universal design principles provide a lens for understanding sustainable environmental techniques. Adaptable buildings constructed with replaceable and reusable parts allow for repair and resiliency over time. Material and structural systems designed for intuitive use and presentation of information promote accessible communication. Passive systems design enables comfort in dialog with the environment and a reduction in required energy. However as passive systems often require building operability, inclusive design principles call for building systems to be operable by diverse users. Post office projects in this case study integrated universal design principles to achieve energy efficient buildings that respond to changing climates and rural cultural contexts.
Replacing minimum standards for accessibility within curricula with inclusive design criteria is also enacted through methodologies. While educational institutions are clustered in urban areas, many students come from or have ties to rural communities. The focus on rural public spaces and aging populations is a means for students to bring their own diverse backgrounds, places of origin, and histories into their academic studies. In combining methods of engaged research with a universal design-focused pedagogy for building systems, students expand technical knowledge of architectural design with the objective of creating equitable and inclusive public spaces.
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