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Foster's City Hall attacked over its High-Tech 'failure'

High-Tech, with its preference for monochrome glass and steel, is inherently at odds with the needs of the visually impaired, a study has found.

Access consultant Adrian Cave found that Foster and Partner's City Hall was a prime example of the problems faced by the partially sighted. Cave visited more than 100 buildings accompanied by a visually impaired colleague. His conclusions are published in the Centre for Accessible Environments' publication, Access by Design.

'Particularly in High-Tech buildings, the use of a lot of glass creates problems with glare and people being in silhouette, ' Cave said. 'We looked at hundreds of buildings, but City Hall was one that had particular problems.'

The study outlined a number of key complaints. It found that 'most of the colours are very grey and muted, often with shine on the floor and glare from the windows'; the manifestation of the glass was too high, at 1,200mm above the ground, making it easy to miss; the staff at the information desk were lit in a way that made them appear in silhouette, making lip-reading difficult; that there were confusing reflections everywhere; and that braille notices were difficult to find.

However, it praised the acoustics in the cafe - 'a welcome contrast to the innumerable cafes and restaurants elsewhere which have such reverberant spaces that normal speech is almost impossible'.

Cave called on architects to have a greater awareness of these problems and to introduce more colour in their schemes.

In contrast to City Hall, he praised Herzog & de Meuron's Laban Centre - the dance studio in Deptford, south London. 'But because of their use of colour they overcame many of the problems of City Hall, ' said Cave.

Foster and Partners refused to comment, insisting it was unable to obtain a copy of Access by Design.

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