The drive towards inclusive design could have a drastic impact on the colours and elements used within our buildings. Already it has caused an upset in one trade organisation. Will solutions such as those shown on the right, both with Hewi handles from Turnquest, soon be the only ones that are acceptable?
There has been trouble at the Guild of Architectural Ironmongers. Mike Turner, managing director of Turnquest, has resigned as president, and his fellow director Julie Batters has also resigned from the Guild's committee.
Who cares? No, do read on. This is not just about a little internecine struggle. It is about the impact of the Disability Discrimination Act and Part M of the building regulations. It is about issues that could very soon affect a building that you are designing.
Turnquest is the company that sells Hewi door furniture and other accessories, much, but not all, of which is brightly coloured.
Turner and Batters' resignations concern interpretation of legislation and guidance on making sure that people with visual impairments can see the key elements in buildings - in this case the door handle against the door, but also the door against the architrave or against the wall, and so on and so forth.
There is plenty of documentation: the DDA itself; BS8300, the British Standard on ironmongery; the new Part M of the building regulations; a new report from the Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE).
Some of these use indeterminate phrases, such as saying that the ironmongery must 'contrast visually' with the door; the CAE talks about tonal contrast. The clearest statement seems to be one that suggests there should be a 30 per cent contrast in luminance between the handle and the door.
What there is not is a great deal of clarity about what this will eventually mean. Turnquest commissioned research from the University of Reading, which in the early 1990s had carried out the groundbreaking Project Rainbow research for ICI paints on selection of paint colours for good visibility. This was independent research, although of course as with any research one can argue about whether its methodology was entirely accurate. It did show that in many cases, with many types of door, the sort of coloured ironmongery that Turnquest offers would be an acceptable solution. It did not show that in no circumstances would metal handles be acceptable, but that was one interpretation put on it in the ensuing furore. Result: a lot of bad feeling, and Turner and Batters resigned.
The guild of course will not really suffer.
Much more important is the dawning realisation of how large an impact this concern with visibility is going to have on design. Ironmonger Allgood has bought a portable machine that allows it to measure the luminance of both handles and doors and calculate the difference. Its initial findings show that, although for instance brushed stainless steel has a middle-of-the-road luminance value that provides insufficient contrast with many door finishes, a small change of finish can help a lot. For example, adding the company's anti-bacterial treatment, while seeming to maintain the quality of the finish, actually makes a big difference to the measurements.
Allgood also believes that a lot of problems will be solved by architects producing access statements that show why they do not need to comply strictly with the letter of the guidance. But the impact on buildings will certainly be severe.
The Disability Discrimination Act is all about inclusive design. At the beginning of this month, the government drastically increased its estimate of the number of people in the UK that have some sort of disability. Nobody but the most churlish would resent the intention behind all the changes, and it is correct that the idea of inclusivity should lead to a fundamental shift in attitudes, and not just to a few bolt-on bits and pieces. But for those who like to define their architecture by words like 'cool', 'subtle' and 'understated', there could be problems ahead in the rainbow future.