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Re-framing Built Environment Practice: Towards an Accessible City

Abstract

As practising architects in Victoria, Australia, we have observed significant, systemic industry failure, impeding the development of accessible and inclusive cities. Contemporary built environment design practice and design values push ‘accessible design’ to the margins, often considered as an after-thought and only in terms of technical and regulatory compliance. Built environment practice needs to be challenged into deeper ways of thinking – ones that stimulate professional discourse and heighten industry awareness of both its control over built environment accessibility outcomes and, critically, its accountability in serving the public good.
Cities invariably comprise neighbourhoods. To begin to understand built environment inaccessibility at the neighbourhood scale, the built environment mindset must change to properly engage with complex, socio-ecological, public-realm (public space) built environments. Design practice must improve its neighbourhood site analysis approach, going beyond private, contractual site boundaries and immediate physical surrounds, to understanding end-user experiences, neighbourhood journeys, and the broader scale of (in)accessibility. Industry attitudes, practice approaches and the way disability is positioned by industry must change to embrace processes that necessitate diverse actors working together across multiple disciplines and sectors with people with disability being core actors in decision-making.
We believe that opportunities exist in building industry interest and capacity. Research-informed built environment practice embracing systems-thinking, human rights-based approaches, and transdisciplinarity can be effective for aggravating industry change and the way industry positions disability. This paper adopts an analytical, collaborative autoethnographic approach, examining case studies of neighbourhood-scale accessibility assessment, outputs from activities questioning why built environment practitioners believe inaccessibility exists, and self-reflection on 10 to 35+ years of working in architectural practice. Importantly, this paper argues that in working towards achieving universally accessible public spaces for all, built environment practitioners, and architects in particular, must accept accountability for the impact of their actions on people with disabilities’ lived experiences.

 

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Published:
Pages:183 to 192
Section: Non Academic / Case study
How to Cite
Mechkaroff, N., Kaushik, S. and Jackson, M. A. (2022) “Re-framing Built Environment Practice: Towards an Accessible City”, The Journal of Public Space, 7(2), pp. 183-192. doi: https://doi.org/10.32891/jps.v7i2.1491.

Author Biographies

Architects for Peace (former President)
Australia Australia

Nicole Mechkaroff is an Architect and former President of not-for-profit organisation Architects for Peace. Nicole has worked in the private sector for over 15 years, delivering public infrastructure projects including educational, community building, and rail (Level Crossing Removal). Having worked in complex multi-stakeholder and user-group environments, she is interested in how transdisciplinarity can positively impact on delivering equitable built environments. Nicole develops public talks targeting industry professionals and recently convened a mini symposium called ‘A participatory Urban Aesthetic?’

Visionary Design Development Pty Ltd
Australia Australia

Saumya Kaushik is an Architect and International Development Practitioner. Accessible public transport is a passion and intersectionality in the context of the built environment a growing interest; her recently submitted thesis explores barriers to accessible and inclusive sanitary facilities for sexual and gender minorities with disability in the global south. Saumya is hearing impaired, grew up in multi-cultural India, and has been resident of Australia for a decade.

Visionary Design Development Pty Ltd
Australia Australia

Mary Ann Jackson is the Director of private sector, transdisciplinary consultancy Visionary Design Development Pty Ltd which specialises in built environment accessibility. Mary Ann is an internationally-recognised Access Consultant, Planner, and Architect. Her PhD studies focus on human-rights based approaches to neighbourhood built-environment accessibility. Through being a Carer for her late husband, she also has first-hand experience of built environment accessibility issues.

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