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Accept the challenge of esigning for access

Oh dear, oh dear, doesn't access for disabled people cause a stir? First there is the article by Ruth Slavid showing the doom and gloom of £5 billion of expenditure to cope with the rush of wheelchair users into the workplace, and then Paul Hyett's plea not to do something as ridiculous as convert black cabs to make them accessible.

Where to start . . . well, Ruth Slavid's article is quite right to take the Act seriously - for the first time it puts the rights of disabled people on a 'reasonably' equal footing with non-disabled people. If this is to be provided, then organisations will have to take steps to ensure that the disabling barriers in their buildings are minimised and do not prevent a disabled person from working. However, having spent 10 years specialising in this field, we have yet to find a 1960s office building that cannot be improved for considerably less than the £200,000 quoted by Bucknall Austin.

This is further reduced by the fact that most banks have already installed automatic doors, an inductive cross-counter communication device is in the order of £500 per service point (and have existed in banks for years), improved signage is always being installed in banks and that the dda makes no 'specific requirements', so if the lighting is extremely poor it would have to be affecting all customers for it to become an issue!

Transport is another matter. Paul Hyett seems to have a bee in his bonnet about black cabs and this has made him overlook a very basic fact - public transport is not available for disabled people, and that £43 million would have very little impact. I agree absolutely that other improvements should be considered in the built environment, but the challenge was set for transport, and cabs play a vital role in the movement of wheelchair users round the city. To confuse this with a building control decision that rightly stated that it could not sanction a 'temporary' breach of regulations - because there is no mechanism for removing the breach when it is no longer in use - and the badly, normally architect-designed, adaptations to improve wheelchair access, is unfortunate.

The answer, I feel, is to accept that we are commissioned to design for all of the population, and to introduce access education to architects so that they can get as excited about detailing wheelchair-accessible spaces as about the ones they now design, which immediately need conversion to make them accessible.

Accept the challenge and embrace the change and philosophies proposed in Su Peace's article on fire-escape requirements, where good planning can reduce the physical change, and Santa Raymond's article showing how we can design to improve productivity. Surely we can also learn to design to improve access?

James Holmes-Siedle

All Clear Designs, London SW6

We need universal, not special', design

Disabled people and what is is being done for them on the architectural design front was the subject of three pieces in aj 15.4.99.

I look back to 1956, a time in history when architects never thought about access for the disabled and mps were yet to appreciate the kudos they could obtain from promoting the causes of disabled people. It was in September of that year that I was targeted by a polio bug, a virulent one which consigned me to living for the rest of my time with a bunch of severely disabling physical impairments.

The first statutes for making buildings accessible to disabled people came under the welfare banner of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act of 1970. More notably, the Act served to energise the disability industry. From 1970 disabled people were set apart; and collectively categorised as a distinct subspecies of the population. Relatedly, they came to be perceived as the oppressed victims of nasty discriminations.

The culmination of the force was the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act. Next year it is to be reinforced by a Disability Rights Commission - a body which, controlled by disability activists, will award rights to disabled people, including rights of access to public buildings, which others are not entitled to.

Instead of being absorbed with special-for-the-disabled design, architects could be looking to achieve universal design, access for everyone, and, across the board, the elimination of architectural discrimination. But today, owing to the exclusive preoccupation with access for the disabled, these aims, if not stifled, are being sidelined. The government needs to be reminded of its 1997 election manifesto commitment, that it would seek to end unjustifiable discrimination wherever it exists.

Architectural discrimination by no means strikes disabled people only. What about, as I have asked before, women and public lavatories?

One day, let us hope, the fault lines that have been laid in the name of disabled people will be corrected.

Selwyn Goldsmith

London SW11

UK should have greater accountability in listing

The recent High Court decision that the Secretary of State was under a duty to give reasons for not listing the Victorian Pupil Teacher College in Liverpool was important for a number of reasons, but mainly for highlighting the need for greater transparency in the listing process.

save is not seeking to establish absolute authority for English Heritage in the decision to list buildings. In the case of the Liverpool building, both English Heritage and the Victorian Society recommended unequivocally that the building should be listed at Grade II in recognition of its national significance. There was, to the best of our knowledge, no evidence to contradict that opinion and so consequently save challenged the decision of the Secretary of State that the building did not fulfil listing criteria.

Ms Harris (Letters, aj 15.4.99) seems to be concerned that following this decision 'save or some other busybody conservation group' will leap in at any moment to contest the reasoning of elected politicians at the taxpayer's expense. In fact the case has simply highlighted the need for the Secretary of State to give reasons for his actions and be held accountable for his decisions within the contest of the current legislation that exists to protect our built heritage.

Deborah Churchill

SAVE Britain's Heritage

London EC1

Professional expertise and exterior lighting

I would like to comment on your editorial (aj 1.4.99) concerning the suggestion that English Heritage should assume new powers in respect of the exterior illumination of listed buildings.

As a practice we have always promoted the involvement of the planning authorities, including English Heritage, in the exterior lighting of buildings. As you rightly point out, there have been in the past and continue to be, many highly inappropriate lighting schemes implemented. It is, however, worth identifying that English Heritage already has powers in respect of exterior illumination of listed buildings, and these powers are already used, at times, to advantage.

For example, Lighting Design Partnership is currently redesigning the lighting for Somerset House; hopefully removing its surprised look! This design process is being carried out in full co-operation with English Heritage. Our recent re-lighting of the Albert Memorial for English Heritage as a client also required detailed discussion with the conservation department of English Heritage.

What I suspect you are really commending is the need for professional expertise in the design of exterior lighting. Unfortunately too many schemes are designed from a commercial or engineering perspective. The experience of architects has shown that good architecture is created by architects themselves, not by planners. Similarly however much English Heritage, as a planning entity, is involved in controlling lighting, it will be equally unable to operate good lighting, merely ameliorate the bad.

Graham Phoenix

Lighting Design Partnership

London EC1

Architectural heritage is important even in war

Your editorial on architectural heritage and war (aj 8.4.99) made me think of the 'Baedeker' bombing raids mounted by the Germans during the Second World War. These raids were directed against English towns of historic interest, including Bath, Canterbury, York, Norwich and Exeter, from April to June 1942. They were undertaken in retaliation for British bombing of civilians in Germany. It seems the Germans were aware of the serious damage to morale that can be caused by the destruction of a nation's cultural heritage. The 'Baedeker' raids are evidence of the importance of architectural heritage even during war.

Alex Chablo


Density alone is no indicator of quality

Brian Michael's letter (aj 15.4.99) reflects confusion over the measurement of housing density.

If a prime purpose of measuring density is to plan for the provision of social services and utilities, then mbh (maximum bedspaces per hectare) is the best measure. This is calculated by dividing: (a) the maximum number of bedspaces which could be achieved, importantly assuming a take-up of a permitted development extension rights; by (b) the developed area with a proportion of surrounding roads, public and amenity space.

Density alone provides no useful indicator of quality. Housing at 40 mbh, under-occupied by retired gentlefolk at 1-2 per dwelling, could be a qualitative world apart from similar housing, occupied by transient dependents at 4-6 people per dwelling.

Sustainability requires density to be linked to housing quality. I am developing a qualitative measure which would also absorb criteria such as privacy, tenure, and proximity to amenities and public transport. Hopefully this can supersede the merely quantitative but otherwise inadequate dph (dwellings per hectare) yardstick. I would be interested to hear from others similarly engaged.

Colin Bloch

19 Court Avenue

Yatton, Bristol BS49 4EP

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