Access Living: Broadening Awareness and
Value in Inclusive Design
On 5th March 2007, Access Living opened doors to its new headquarters in Chicago, one of the first office buildings to incorporate inclusive design in conjunction with green design. Thinking beyond a conventional office template, this four-story LEED Gold Certified building was designed with a user-centered approach to enhance every individual's productivity and well-being. It was, after all, built for Access Living, an organization with a mission to promote independent living and foster dignity, pride, and self-esteem in people with disabilities. They needed an office space for their staff and clientele, including people with a wide array of abilities and capacities. An inclusive office design was the vision, and it quickly became an especially important project to LCM.
One of the building's greatest legacies is its success in broadening awareness and recognition of universal design and the value in growing a more inclusive society.
Marca Bristo, the late founding president and CEO of Access Living
LCM's dedication to accessibility and local knowledge put us at the forefront to realize our client's ambitions. Accessibility focuses on specific physical or cognitive disabilities, but it may leave out large sections of people who don't have a defined, legally recognized disability. On the other hand, inclusive design is a set of general principles to create conditions of desirable human-environment interaction.
Inclusive design steps away from preconceived notions of "typical" users and accounts for the differing ways in which people move through, perceive, or react to the environment. Most commercial office buildings tend to be built around standard templates with assumptions about "average" users. As we embarked on this innovative journey, there were no official standards and few precedents to follow.
In April 2004, LCM facilitated a design symposium that included Access Living staff, consumers, design professionals, and specialists in disability from the U.S. Access Board and other professional organizations. The group represented the voices of diverse users, capturing the needs of people with noticeable and also invisible disabilities.
We began by meeting with people with many kinds of disabilities to identify the challenges each faces when using commercial buildings, then worked to address these challenges creatively and cost-effectively. We wanted our end result to make a bold statement about the possibilities of inclusive and socially sustainable design.
John Catlin, FAIA, and Richard Lehner, AIA, LEED AP, Partners at LCM Architects.
The four-story headquarters building on Chicago Avenue is sensitive to its surrounding urban neighborhood in terms of scale, materials, and massing. The most notable innovations are on the interior. Inclusive design often lies in the details that are not apparent on the first look but evident in the experience. Here are some examples of inclusive design principles that were put into practice:
Everyone can approach and enter the building in the same way, through the main entrance. There is no ramp, lift, or separate entrance, and no need to call for assistance.
Flexibility in Use
Lounge area with cabinets and surface counters at different heights, reception area with different kinds of chairs, meeting rooms with or without daylight. The spaces offer various choices to cover a wide range of abilities and preferences.
Simple and Intuitive
The space allows easy and intuitive use regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or concentration level. Color helps orient people to different functions, with accent walls in the elevator lobby and a different paint color for toilet rooms. The elevators have unique features like dual exit and entry points, visual and audio signals for floors, and a TTY emergency call system for deaf people.
The path of travel from the sidewalk to the entrance, reception desk, corridors, and elevators is marked with both visual and tactile cues. Contrasting carpet colors in the lobby and corridors act as way-finding markers.
Tolerance for Errors
Good visibility around office corners with vision panels will prevent abrupt encounters, especially for wheelchair users. The design of curved corners requires less precise maneuvering for wheelchair use and walking difficulty.
Low Physical Effort
Bathroom sensors, automatic shades, non-skid floor coverings reduce physical effort. Sufficient elevator capacity reduces waiting times.
Size and Space for Approach and Use
Even on a tight urban site, the design provides ample space for all users to move, irrespective of body size, posture, or mobility.