If you’ve ever had to deal with small projects and handicap accessibility you know that there are several factors that can truly challenge the designer. If you’re not a designer, but one who appreciates architecture, let me simply state that it’s noble as well as mandatory to comply with accessibility requirements. However, with small budgets, tight spaces and sharp changes in topography, the designer can find themselves struggling to find a solution within the plethora of constraints. Clients are not always cooperative because they aren’t prepared to include anymore into their budget.
I do a lot of work in small urban environments and there is rarely a flat spot in Western Pennsylvania. Most buildings over a few decades old have more than a few steps at the entrance. What are we to do with this emotionally charged issue?
Several things inspired this post including a webinar a couple of days ago from the AIA about the myths of accessible design. I thought I would share a small portion of a recently completed project of mine that, in my opinion, creates more than the required ramp and accessible route into the new bar, but solves the mandatory requirements with something spatial that masks its utilitarian purpose. At face value it may seem extremely simple, but this one took some time to discover as well as develop, and convince the client to build.
This photo shows the original condition of the entrance. There were two steps that lead into the entry, but the sidewalk also sloped beyond the maximum cross slope in both directions. I couldn’t do anything about the sidewalk beyond the entry, but I did set out to address the sidewalk immediately at the entry. Consulting with the local plan examiners and City officials early in the process helped the development go smoother.
This photo shows the final entry solution. The steps were eliminated, the sidewalk removed and reinstalled with minor adjustments to meet the mandatory 1/4″ per foot cross slope at the base of the ramp. It took convincing the city that we were not creating a sharply molded sidewalk that would cause a trip hazard. This has occurred in other places where others have endeavored to create a flat spot in front of an entry door only to yield a hump in the sidewalk. I had to carefully illustrate it to show the minor but necessary difference between the before and after conditions to get approval. I’ve seen more complicated situations to overcome, yet this one was difficult enough.
The plan below shows the basic layout of the new ramp leading into the bar. Once we had the concept in place, it took several calculations and multiple site visits to carefully measure the dimensions both vertically and horizontally to confirm my solution would actually work. Drawing it with all of the clearances overlaid was the only way I felt comfortable that the design could actually work. Basically the front portion of the existing wood floor framing was “lowered” down to an elevation just above the elevation of the sidewalk. The entry vestibule was rebuilt with modern aluminum storefront and moved back into the building. There is an exterior ramp as well as one on the interior.
The small footprint required the ramp to change directions. A change of direction requires a large landing that permits a wheelchair turning radius. The angled stair is derived from the angle of the original storefront, but it also quickly leads ambulatory users into the space. It gives a quirky nature to what is often an underwhelming feature. The dimensions were amazingly tight with little or no room for slop or additional clearance. The contractor actually built a 60″ round template to check the turning space at various parts of the ramp and entry. The interior ramp (and stair) became the new window feature in this near century old storefront.
In these sections, the structural concept is evident. The existing floor structure was “lowered” with the new wood ramp construction built on top of the lowered floor framing. Consideration had to be taken to allow for the ceramic tile thickness to align with the existing wood flooring at the interior.
Although the railings were not mandatory since each ramp section was under a 6″ rise, I felt it necessary to include them to keep anyone from tripping. In addition, unfinished black pipe railings were selected to continue the gritty, industrial look of the new bar. They’re more than a railing to assist one up the ramp or stair, but a spatial divider as well as an element to lean against and talk to your friends. The connectors are the Kee Klamp system, an industrial, but versatile system for connecting pipes into a myriad of configurations. The wood plank shelving on top of the one rail sections is a remnant floor joist from the area of floor framing that was removed. Consider it a serendipitous solution that arose during construction as well as a reminder of what occurred to make the design possible.
Simply put, ideas are great and necessary, but the execution is where the strength of the idea is confirmed. Even though it strained the budget, this entry truly “ramps up” this design and it would be missing something without it. Besides meeting the minimal requirements for accessibility, my goal from the start was to make this space exciting and a place everyone would want to be in. I felt it should be more than what it has to be so that the occupants of the bar could use it as a place to hang out as well as provide easy entry for all types of people. It’s important to break the myth that accessibility needs to look sterile or institutional. We must be more creative, especially with small projects as this. It’s also a victory to have a willing client.
What are your thoughts? I’m open to constructive critiques. Did I get it right? I’d also love to hear about or see your creative solutions to similar challenging problems. I’d love to have talked more about other design features of the bar I designed, but I’ll save that for another time.
all photos are by skysight Photography ©
rendering and design is by lee CALISTI architecture+design ©