Skip Navigation | Accessibility | Default version |High contrast version

A collaboration between deaf and disabled artists and interior architecture students

You are here:

Image - Ellie_proposal.jpg

A drawing of a student proposal for a sound generating gallery.

What makes good design

The issues that began to be raised about how to integrate the conceptual and the practical right at the beginning of the design process, rather than 'doing' one after the other, suggests that working with deaf and disabled artists has lots to offer design educators.

Many design practitioners and tutors are also interesting in such an integration of conceptual ideas and detailed realisation. Many have been exploring issues around the body, for example, as a way of re-thinking older modernist and functionalist approaches to design. This has been both about understanding 3D space through more than just the visual, and about re-thinking the whole process of design, using concepts such as hybridity and embodiment.

However, writers from disability studies have, in turn, been criticising these newer approaches for ‘leaving out’ deaf and disabled bodies. Why, then, are these very interesting debates not reaching architectural and interiors theory or educational practice?

Towards multi-layered engagements

In this project, we began to talk about what kinds of conceptual frameworks and design development methods might enable deeper, more multi-layered engagements between disability and building design.

To me, the artists seemed to be endlessly creatively challenging, in many different ways, the artificial splits in interior architecture education between concept/function, idea/detail, cultural/ technical and poetics/practicality.

The fact of having a disability made the functionality of objects and spatial relationships central and immediate (if in very different ways for different people). Looking the practical and the experiental ‘directly in the face’ and starting from close-up, micro socio-spatial engagements and events, though, was not about limiting responses to ergonomic or functional solutions. The mapping of differently weighted variations of bodily sensations, sound, vision, movement, smell, comfort, etc., cannot be separated from either their bodily, human context, nor the social mileu in which they take place. In addition, the translations of these sensory experiences into design responses is generated through our simultaneously artistic and practical sensibilities.

Because they are young mobile able bodied, they don’t consider functionality that doesn’t have this at its heart. Design is very removed from their bodies.
Artist feedback 11th May 2007
Perhaps a consideration of putting them into their own bodies so moving away from architecture in a ‘straight jacket’ taking them into the experiential.
Artist feedback 11th May 2007
I felt my space, because disabled artists have helped me put me in my space…
Student feedback 11th May 2007
Absolutely, I just got really fired by making something workable and exploring a full route through the design.
Student feedback 11th May 2007

Disabilities and…

This was always about more than ‘being’ a disability. It was about concretely thinking the diversity and quality of embodied relationships in material spaces. It was about the importance of supplementaries, about not being interested in representing or explaining the lives as disabled people through material form and space, but in working through the different experiences of deafness and disability as a means of transforming and acting upon life and wellbeing for everyone.

It was about moving beyond nuts and bolts and able-ist view… and imparting the idea of multiple users and a transgressive use of space. We presented a ‘metaphor’, or way of looking at problems with language and real issues so it could be more rooted and real.
Artist blog May 20th April 2007

From disabilities out

This means working from disability first rather than seeing it as merely an ‘add-on’ to normal design processes and products. This is more than accessibility; it has the potential to shift many conventional assumptions about how buildings should be designed. It offers ways of going beyond the, often implicit, assumptions of a standard user with a few, abnormal variations to a different vision of a multiplicity of participants with diverse desires and requirements.

After speaking to the artists, my creative design skills have become much more aware of attention to detail. It has made me realise that there are many faults and inconsideration in building design today.
I hope to further improve my design giving it an all round richness through understanding every aspect in the design of it and creating a inhabitable space for all members of the public to experience.
Student feedback April 14 2007

It is also about keeping debates and processes open rather than closed. Re-thinking disability and ideas is as much about the languages we use and the assumptions we make, as it is about exploring different design approaches.

Language is a barrier on many levels.
Artist feedback May 11th 2007

Not surprisingly then, there were conflicts and tensions throughout the project, as individuals brought their own experiences, assumptions and intentions to it. The Making Discursive Spaces project wanted to face up to these differences rather than hiding them away.

  Next: Facing up to differences
Arts Council England University of Brighton, Interior Architecture and Design

Home    Accessibility