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Personal perspectives to go beyond aesthetics

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This summer's aj letters pages have been remarkable for the length of time that the discussion on accessibility for disabled people has taken, and the breadth of 'sub-topics' covered by your contributors.

What has so far been lacking from the contributions is a perspective on the issue that is depersonalised - in the same way that the designs that cause the problems have been. The basic failure being described relates to buildings and people. How many of us own 'wonderful' objects that pretend to be functional, fail abysmally at what they profess to do, but are still must haves because of their aesthetic appeal?

Many architects place aesthetics higher than usability and as a result design wonderful buildings that fail to address human need, or perform to brief. This is further exacerbated by a fear of 'ergonomics' and 'usability' and the concentration of architectural education on the visual form rather than an analysis of 'fitness for purpose'.

Aesthetics is an extremely important component of the built environment, and indeed one of its 'functions' but interaction with these buildings and people show up their failings. Katherine Shonfield (aj 16.9.99) illustrates exactly the dilemma of crossing the road with a young child or older person, and the world of difference that 5 seconds on a pedestrian crossing can make to individual choice, independence, and contribution to society. If only architects could apply this 5 second rule to the buildings and environments that they are designing we could get rid of 'the' disabled and go back to being people.

James Holmes-Siedle, director, All Clear Designs, London W4

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