Building accessibility starts at the drawing board

FM newsroom – building accessibility. Even during the development of the first floor plan sketches, the barrier-free design of the buildings is a decisive aspect, as this makes the everyday life of not only people with disabilities, but also everyone else significantly easier.

Accessibility is an integral part of the design process, and architects now plan the interior and exterior design of a building from the very beginning of the project to ensure that it is accessible to all. The statistics also show that equal opportunities are now evident, so accessibility of buildings is also an essential requirement. According to Eurostat’s estimates, 27 percent of the EU population over the age of 16, more than 100 million people, lived with some form of disability in 2022; that is, every fourth adult is affected, reports

Besides accessibility being required by national legislation, it also makes everyday life easier for most of society, such as elderly people, expectant mothers, and people with large luggage.

It all starts with the floor plan sketches

Accessibility has become a key design consideration in recent years. Fortunately, there are many practical interior design solutions. The accessibility of the immediate environment and buildings, the design of internal vertical and horizontal circulation, and the usability of individual functions and areas are critical factors in space organisation.

For example, the professionals of the Paulinyi & Partners architectural firm already use advanced interior design solutions, such as IT-controlled sound- and light-based aids, tactile surfaces that can be sensed by touch, as well as complex blind guidance systems.

“We also use a variety of tactile surfaces to help visually impaired people find their way around, such as flooring and stairs, and we use IT, sound and light-based aids to help them find their way around. A great example is the Etele Plaza system we designed” – Orsolya Vass, Paulinyi & Partners, Interior Design Project Director.

Accessible solutions

Etele Plaza is Hungary’s first smart shopping centre with several barrier-free solutions. The Ariadné blind guide system used here, developed by the engineers of Óbuda University, opens up new possibilities for visually impaired people in terms of barrier-free transport. It can be used in interiors, public buildings, workplaces, homes, and outdoor events. In all cases, it can effectively help blind and visually impaired people to find their way around.

The solution is based on a sensor-equipped blind stick that allows the user to follow a special guide track hidden in the envelope and navigate easily around the building. The electronic device emits a sound and a vibrating signal when moving a conventional passer-by, indicating the guide rail as it passes over it, thus helping the user to navigate independently.

In accessibility design, renovating an existing building can be more challenging for designers, as in many cases the space does not have the parameters required for such a design. This may mean, for example, that a new route for wheelchair users may need to be provided, which is not the same as the general circulation.

In these cases, other means will have to be used, such as installing a handrail lift or building a new staircase core to accommodate a lift of the right size. Simulation techniques, which can also model the movement of people in the building and allow a comparison of the different options in terms of material use and expected costs, can help to find the best solution.

Digitalisation and AI

With the development of digitalisation and artificial intelligence, more and more tools can help people with disabilities in their daily lives, for example through further advances in navigation, facial recognition or voice recognition. In the near future, many previously difficult or impossible activities for people with disabilities may become commonplace. Technology is also helping designers, as advances in simulation techniques make it easier to anticipate a wide range of possibilities.

“Accessibility is not just a requirement; it is an approach that helps build inclusive and sustainable societies. This is important from a physical point of view and emotional and psychological, as comfortable and accessible spaces make people feel comfortable. It is the responsibility of architects and interior designers to create an environment that accommodates the diversity of people and adapts to their different needs” – Dr. Gergely Paulinyi DLA, CEO of Paulinyi & Partners.


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