We are becoming more conscious of the impact of our surroundings on our wellbeing. The majority of architects focus on creating outstanding, eye catching buildings, whereas more awareness of impairments and minimal adaptations to the design, architecture and decoration can often lead to impressive improvements in recovery, wayfinding, or well being of the users, including impaired people.
The abundant use of glass facades and complex structures are maybe a relish for the eye, but people with all kinds of disabilities (visual impairment, deafness, physical impairment, a mental disorder or dementia), have problems with wayfinding or suffer from the acoustics climate. Also there are hardly good examples on involving, touch or smell in architectural buildings.
Bartiméus, knowledge institute for blind and visual impaired, focuses on improving the quality of life for people with impairments. By involving them in the research and design process of new built projects (housing/ schools) Bartiméus gained lots of experience on aspects the target group themselves considers important for their autonomy, their well being and wayfinding.
Bartimeus collect dates from diagnostic research on people with a visual impairment. Beside this empirical research, Bartiméus also uses the results of other research-fields to improve accessibility of the built environment. That includes research on architecture topics as well as ergonomics and environmental psychology3.
Results give information what sensory aspects (sound/acoustics, texture/ tactile elements, smell, light & colours) can improve the environment. In November 2012 this expertise was published in the book ‘Architectuur door andere ogen’ (Architecture through different eyes)4. In this multi-media publication, eight blind people visited public buildings and shared their experiences on audio documentaries. The second part of the book focuses on the above mentioned sensory aspects that architects and designers should take into account to create a more accessible environment for everyone, including people with a disability.
We are convinced that involving users in the design and research process is essential to create better living environments for everyone, including people with disabilities. Architecture is a human product and should therefore preferably reflect as many human qualities as possible.
3 O.a. The center for Universal design, Schifferstein, Multi sensory design. Herssens, architecture for more, Herssens en Heylighen, Haptic design research, a blind sense of space. Den brinker en Daffertshofer, the IDED method to measure the visual accessibility of the built environment. W. Hoeven, olfactorische architectuurwaarneming.