The College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture is offering a new award program for universal design starting this fall semester. The $5,000 worth of prize money will be distributed to third-year architecture students with final studio design projects exemplifying the theme of accessibility.
The award is the result of a $60,000 commitment to CAPLA over the next three years by local Tucson company and subsidiary of AGM Container Controls*, Ascension Wheelchair Lifts. According to CAPLA director of development Angie Smith, the money will be invested in student prizes as well as towards supporting the faculty and studios involved in the program.
Inception of the awards program began when AGM reached out to CAPLA with interest in supporting the education of future architects on the subject of accessibility.
“AGM has been making wheelchair lifts for a long time,” said AGM director of marketing Paul Davis, “We were looking for a way to … get involved in this community in a way that might be meaningful and make sense for us as a brand.”
AGM and CAPLA collaborated to design the project, with CAPLA ultimately incorporating the award into the curriculum of third-year course ARC 301 Design Studio III: Integrations of Place, taught by professors such as Eduardo Guerrero, Bill Mackey, Siriporn Trumble and Teresa Rosano. The project-based course has an emphasis on topography and universal design.
The class is currently proceeding over Zoom where students are split into breakout rooms to work on their individual studio projects with instructors. Representatives from the UA Disability Resource Center will visit the class to discuss concepts of inclusivity and accessibility.
For their projects, students will face increasingly sloped terrains that they are tasked with transforming into accessible spaces compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. They will design two projects, the final of which will be submitted for review before a jury for consideration for the award.
“I would like them to come out of it with both increased knowledge, empathy and awareness,” Rosano said on what she hopes students will gain from the experience. “We are accustomed to seeing the world through our own lens and it takes effort and awareness and discipline to see it through someone else’s.”
Third-year architecture students in the course, Kaya Orona and Erik Wright, agreed that the project’s focus on universal design is very important. While they had studied ADA regulations before, they identified this exploration of universal design as more in-depth with increased emphasis on real world problems.
“When it comes to universal design, it’s critical that you don’t just think about wheelchairs,” Wright said. He explained that the expanse of universal design includes the deaf, blind and any identity that affects how we perceive and navigate space. “Architecture is built around the human body. It’s something to remind yourself of and think about. Once you start thinking about it you won’t stop,” Wright said.
For Orona, incorporating universal design concepts has personal significance.
“When I heard about [the project] I was very excited because, for about one and a half years of my life I was actually in a wheelchair due to a chronic illness,” Orona said. “Just being wheelchair-bound and buildings not being ADA-accessible or tables not being the right height for me was always something I was kind of bummed out about. It made me feel not included in things.”
The program requires students to adapt creatively and innovatively to spaces that are naturally difficult to navigate. The first studio project on which students are currently working is a wellness retreat in Bisbee, Arizona, involving very steep sites and design issues to overcome. Despite the challenge, students find the skillset exercised in the projects to be important for their studies and careers moving forward.
“Incorporating architecture with real world problems is very important and something that we’re going to be doing in the profession when we are architects,” Orona said.
For the students, the award from AGM serves as an incentive to focus on details crucial to accessibility that often go over-looked. However, the importance of the program goes beyond the monetary reward.
“The purpose of this is not to gain recognition or money," Orona said. "I think it’s to give people an equal chance at experiencing a space."
*Editor's Note: A previously published version of this article mistakenly named AGM Container Controls as Arizona Gear and Manufacturing Containers Controls. The article has been updated with the correct name.
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