By Audrey Treece
As design professionals, we will have a lot of responsibility. All of our decisions will not only influence the space aesthetically but will also influence the people that use those spaces. Things can be easily overlooked and something that may seem like a good idea could turn out to be a disaster.
I came across an article the other day on cnn.com about a recently completed $105 million courthouse in Franklin County, Ohio. The building contains a really unique glass staircase that aesthetically completes the design and was put in place with innocent intentions. The designer, however, did not think about half of the population that would be using the space. Women and I suppose men for whatever reason, that choose to wear dresses or skirts cannot use the staircase due to the transparent nature of the material. Those who wear skirts are warned by the courthouse security about the problem and encourage those persons to avoid using the staircase. A female judge, who works at the courthouse, has said that even though she chooses to wear skirts and dresses, she does not trust people to be mature and/or with today’s technology, she doesn’t trust cell phones with cameras. She fears that she will end up on the internet by just innocently walking up or down the stairs at her place of employment. On the other hand, some women are still using the staircase with the hopes that people will be mature about the situation.
I have to admit that even though I am female and sometimes where skirts and dresses, I am not sure that I would have thought about this being an issue during the design process. This just goes to show how easily things can turn into a disaster by not thinking through a design problem.
A University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor, Dr. Kathryn H. Anthony, has started a website called Disadvantaged by Design where her goal and research is, “to challenge and change design education and practice, inspiring faculty and professional architects to create more humane learning and working environments. Her work stresses the critical importance of designing for diversity and creating spaces for people.” (www.disadvantagedbydesign.com)
I encourage everyone to visit and frequent this website to see what is happening out in the profession that unintentionally affects people who will use our designs.
If you want to read more about the glass staircase visit: http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/06/09/glass-staircase-not-dress-friendly/.