by Magda Mostafa1 & Ruth Baumeister2
1Associate Professor of Design, The American University in Cairo
2Associate Professor, Aarhus School of Architecture
No individual deserves to experience space in a manner that is less safe, less comfortable or less accessible as a result of their identity or needs. Sustainability, in its most holistic definition, cannot be achieved without a collective act. This collectiveness is impossible without embracing all members of society, yet our current policies and practices in architecture do not yet meet this threshold of inclusion.
The notion of Design for Inclusivity aims to critically define the constructs and categories of who we design for, and exactly who we are excluding, and why, in order to mindfully develop strategies to mitigate this exclusion. In our work we hope to expand and deconstruct the in/exclusion dialectic and in doing so propose the concept of ´availability´ as a working model. Availability presents the built environment as a landscape of affordances, presented without privilege or prejudice to all identities, bodies and experiences.
But to reach this available world we must first explore our role in creating it and take ownership of spaces where we are preventing its creation—we must ask ourselves: What are our biases and assumptions? Who is at the center of our human-centered design decisions? What is an architect's role, potential and responsibility, in creating environments that are neither inclusive nor exclusive, but available for all? What are the areas of focus, to which we need to give special consideration?
Architecture today is based on standards, according to which architects design our physical environment. Standards determine how we perceive our bodies but they also act as frameworks according to which we define our identities and create our environment. Normative practices as we know them in the field of architecture, law, morality and language are all bound to standards, rules and codes of conduct. Instead of proposing yet another set of normative practices in the form of standards and regulations, we suggest seven fundamental questions which should help architects, designers and urban planners to reflect on the current mechanisms of in/ex/clusion and the necessary actions that will bring to us a spatial future that is available to all.
Designing towards availability
To work towards the design of availability in our environment we call on the architects, curators and creators of our future built environment to pose, engage in, amend and explore the following seven questions:
We propose the following constructs to frame this interrogation: gender; race & ethnicity; ability; neurodiversity; age; socio-economy; and non-human life. We are mindful that these constructs are not mutually exclusive and do not exist in isolation. We consequently aim to engage in the important notion of intersectionality across multiple categories, and confront the challenges across subsequent policies and practices that may emerge as a result.
How is gender defined through the lens of its relationship to the built environment? How do gender-based power relations in the profession and spatialized forms of domination shape our built environment? In which ways are gender and architecture—or the perception, use and production of space—interrelated? What are the tools—from pedagogy to practice—that we can deploy to mitigate this exclusion?
What current policies are in place to exclude individuals from the built environment based on their race and ethnicity and how can they potentially be deconstructed? How is race and ethnicity used to disadvantage groups from basic rights such as living in urban centers, housing, healthcare and education? What is the impact of these, and how can built environment researchers, scholars and practitioners act to shift this narrative?
How can we expand our definitions of mobility, perception, communication, dexterity and design with these expanded definitions as a means to be more inclusive? Are legally binding codes enough to ensure true authentic inclusion or are they a starting point that must be expanded? How can we codify such diverse needs? How can we design an architecture that is empowering rather than disabling?
What role does the built environment play in disabling e users with invisible challenges, such as autism spectrum; learning challenges; developmental challenges; and mental health? How can we, as built environment practitioners, learn from this diverse perceptual model? How can we design in a way that is more facilitative, supportive and accessible for neurodiverse perceptual models? How can these users be seen as sources of spatial expertise and co-authors of these solutions?
How can we design our cities, housing, healthcare and civic spaces to support availability for human beings across their lifetime with safety, comfort, dignity and agency? How can design support moments of transition? Are there inclusive and typological practices that can help inform that change?
What can we learn from (in)formal settlements created by the majority of our world’s population that lives at or below the poverty line? How can we harness the user-driven, self-sufficient locality of it, while mitigating its shortcomings? And how can we integrate this redefinition into how we educate, train and produce our future generations of architects?
How can we as architects and urban planners think of spaces as something ‘more-than-human’ and by doing so, aim at including unintended aspects of the built environment? How can architects contribute to creating an awareness to the needs of non-human actors not only on the level of the discipline´s critical role in urban ecology, but also by including non-human´s subjectivities in the built environment?
No person is one thing, and the rich tapestry of our human condition needs an equally rich tapestry of design solutions, that views users not only from an inclusive lens but from an intersectional one. How can design tackle multiple and diverse needs? And how can we codify the infinite intersectionalities of users, and resolve conflicting needs through design?