Guest Post by Andrea Kovich
Recently, I attended a conference at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, CA. Dedicated to one of the foremost disability civil rights leaders, Ed Roberts, the campus is an international model of Universal Design and the home of several disability service organizations. There are so many things to say about the beauty of the building—the Universal Design features, the embodiment of the spirit of accessibility and inclusiveness, etc.—but I’ve decided to focus on one compelling design choice: the main ramp.
When a person comes through the front entrance of the building, he or she is immediately welcomed by a huge ramp that connects the first floor to the second. While there is also an elevator, the ramp is the most prominent method for vertical circulation. The easy slopes of the ramp runs are interspersed with level landings, meaning that the ramp is not only aesthetically pleasing, but it is designed to be ADA compliant.
The significance of this ramp, however, is that the design of it does more than address the need for vertical circulation. The usual solution for vertical movement between floors is a main flight of stairs and an elevator for accessibility, separating the users based on an individuals’ needs. But a ramp for everyone to use provides equity of experience. The ramp allows a person who uses a mobility device (or even a mother with a stroller) to have an uninterrupted conversation with someone who would normally use the stairs. It allows people to share the experience of moving through the space.
Accessibility regulations look at the location of the accessible route in relation to the general circulation path. But designers should ask themselves: is it necessary to separate these into two paths of travel? Are stairs and an elevator the best design solution, or just the more prevalent solution, because that’s what is usually done? What does my design communicate?
The ramp at the Ed Roberts Campus makes a powerful gestural statement by communicating a silent message to the user as soon as he or she enters: All are welcome in this building. A main set of stairs communicates a prioritization; it suggests that users who can use the stairs should do so and everyone else should go find the alternate route. But design can do more than meet the practical concerns of a space. Good design considers the intangible qualities that can enhance an environment.