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  • Writer's pictureRicardo Escobar

Architecture as a Force to Shape Accessibility and Inclusion

To speak of inclusion is to think of the other, the different, the neighbor. It is to recognize the differences between individuals (and the diversity that this means) and grant rights equally and with equity, helping to reduce discrimination.

Consider the other with the same conditions to enjoy access to satisfiers, be they spatial, physical, imaginary, corporal, emotional, social, and/or cultural; it is a matter of enjoyment of the most fundamental universal rights.

"Strangers offered all manner of unsolicited advice about my body... I was forced to be honest with myself in a way I had long avoided."

The Body Is Unruly, Roxane Gay

That other means endless possibilities of being, that is, a diversity; where each individual represents the unrepeatable unit and forms social groups most broadly in their forms, communities where the need to belong always arises inclusion is the right to belong as well. But the people of power that designs or have requirements to design usually design for a specific profile of “disable” users. As Roxane Gay shares, people, societies, political structures tend to tell how our bodies should look, and to decide if our body is good or bad shape, therefore architecture tent to fall into stereotypes.

In terms of architecture, the concept of inclusion is associated with mobility-accessibility; that is, to satisfy a need of any kind, it is necessary to move in space and obtain what is desired in optimal access conditions but it doesn’t contemplate sexuality or other profiles than binary gender. In this sense, inclusive architecture is one that includes in its programming, planning, and design (inclusive or universal design) users with different motor, sensory, emotional, and physical capacities; to guarantee its accessibility in spatial-functional terms, contemplating the rights of that other different.

The above is common to observe in practice, examples are those constructions or facilities that contemplate uses by the diversity of actors, or specific conditions such as people with a visual, neuromotor, hearing, or other disability, BUT NOT QUEER; and that include various equipment to guarantee general accessibility such as corridors and walkways of suitable widths, ramps, tactile guides, support rails, mobile platforms, elevators, tactile-auditory signage, AND AGAIN THIS ARE JUST FOR PHYSICAL COMPLICATIONS. A hospital is a clear example of stereotyped limited inclusion from the functional approach, being an architectural (old) typology that must meet very specific mobility conditions using a universal accessibility code according to the condition of its users,

Diagram made by Author

In terms of housing, it is necessary to think that all individuals age or become ill, gain or lose weight, but houses that are inclusive still a design which leads us to conditions of reduced mobility in many cases, this translated into inclusive stereotype architectural language, means that preferably and as far as possible, a low percentage of the homes comply with the capacity to house inclusive spaces on any level that is not the ground floors becomes very rare, and more expensive because the design becomes very specified.

In the case of public spaces and buildings, and in some cases with scope to the private sector, it should be noted that by regulations (in accordance with those applicable in each State and Municipality, in accordance with the Federal standard), all must comply with a universal accessibility code that guarantees mobility and access to all groups with different but specified capacities, and not based on respect for guarantees and rights in general, also to reduce inequalities and contribute to the social inclusion of different social groups is not the main goal of architecture in actual cases, usually, it needs to be functional and look cute.

"Buildings can be tools for ethnic segregation, cultural destruction, and historical erasure. Buildings can reinforce the status quo and aid in the implementation of settler-colonial desires of expansionism."

Un-making ARCHITECTURE: An anti-racist architecture manifesto

By WAI Architecture

However, from the symbolic point of view, the capacity for inclusion of architecture should go beyond the physical and functional, also existing in the field of the intangible: identity inclusion, that capacity of a building or group of buildings, to generate bonds of identity, either through its historical life, its spatial arrangement, its formal language, or all of them, generating synergy between architecture-human being, through a duality between belonging to the building or belonging to its identity.

In the economic sphere, we can mention that there are benefits in the creation of inclusive productive and commercial spaces with a universal accessibility character, considering, on the one hand, the intellectual capital and qualified labor that exists in these groups with different capacities, capable of integrating to the production of goods and services. On the other hand, the universe of consumers they represent within the consumer market, under the premise that the greater the accessibility to a good or service, the greater the consumption.

On the other hand, in urban planning research, inclusivity is considered multifactorial. It directly relates to different areas such as human development, sociology, anthropology, social psychology, health, education, mobility, housing, culture, and economy. We are making it a significant variable in the quality of life of cities and nations. Inclusion is also a democratic and social responsibility value.

With the above, we can say that the value of inclusion in architecture lies in the will and action of designing thinking of the other: deciphering him/her/they, considering the modes and experimentation of his/her/they life, knowing and understanding his/her/they need, his/her/they limitations, his/her/they pleasures, his/her/they phobias, his/her/they conception of space, pre-feel what he/her/they will enjoy in the future space: use architectural empathy.

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