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  • Writer's pictureTony Renta

Foundations of Design

Landscape architects operate under foundations of the profession that were established almost 150 years ago (1867 to be exact):

Dedication to public health, safety, and welfare and recognition and protection of the land and its resources.

Accessibility has always been a focus for designers. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed containing specific laws and regulations that require compliance related to public space. In a nutshell, the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in these areas:

  • Employment

  • State and local government

  • Public accommodations

  • Commercial facilities

  • Transportation

  • Telecommunications

As landscape architects we are obviously most concerned with providing accessible design in the public accommodations arena. A variety of rules and specifications exist related to providing products, services, and facilities that can be independently used by people with a variety of disabilities. Guidelines for widths of pathways, types of paving and surfaces used, placement of handrails, steepness of paths, anti-slip resistance coatings – these are just a few that we as designers have to keep in mind in order to comply with the ADA standards.

It is important to realize the difference between accessible and universal design principles.

Accessible – design process in which needs of people with disabilities are specifically considered
Universal – the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design

Designing with universal design principles in mind takes accessibility to a new level – for example, automatic doors and sidewalks with curb cuts not only benefit people with disabilities, but also parents with strollers, delivery people, etc. The ultimate end goal we seek is for people to be able to utilize and enjoy the spaces and places we create. Certainly complying with ADA regulations accomplish the “usability” part of the equation, but principles of universal design can take help us to think about the solution to the design puzzle in an all-encompassing way.

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