Architects may be forced to abandon fashionable “pure architecture” in order to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act, an industry expert has warned.
The 1995 DDA comes into force today amid claims that the demand to provide safe access for those with disabilities could impact on popular elements of design, particularly the use of glass.
Simon Rawlinson, partner in QS Davis Langdon, warned that certain features of contemporary “high-class architecture” may become untenable under the act. He said: “There will be a knock-on impact on elements of architecture that people prize quite highly.”
Rawlinson cited glass partitions as a particular problem, because of the requirement that they are identifiable by the visually impaired. He said: “The structures can remain if they have bright red strips on them, but that won’t give the artistic impact designers look for. Minimalist, pure architecture becomes harder to achieve.”
Jane Simpson, access consultant for Aedas architects, agreed that some elements of structure would need to be addressed under the law. She said: “The use of glass staircases will have to be questioned, but in many ways that’s a matter of risk assessment. Glass staircases can be frightening for anyone, not just the disabled.”
Simpson believes that designers can incorporate landmark features without failing the act’s requirements, despite criticism of landmark buildings from disabled associations.
She said: “The Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People attacked the Lowry, and I can understand why; it wasn’t inclusive. But it didn’t have to be like that. It could have maintained the architecture and had equality of access by ensuring disabled people could follow the same routes around the building as the able-bodied.”
Under the law, any business or service building used by the public must be fully accessible to the disabled. This involves providing facilities for the deaf, blind and partially sighted.