While many things change, most things remain constant

Sometimes architects are not held in high esteem.

The public in general, and even developers often reduce the input by the architect by employing Project Managers who have shouldered their way into the industry by taking over the Principal Agent responsibility of developments.

Architects’ minds are mostly geared in any case to take on the conceptual and creative side of projects, so they give up this Stage 5 section without complaint. Stage 5 is the supervision of the project and control and management of the other consultants and the finances relating to it on behalf of the client.

It is very unusual for changes not to be made during this stage. I always say it’s like painting in another flower into a Van Gogh painting. Of course the architect is probably still on board, but his voice now is so small in the face of time, money etc that it is usually overruled.

I’m talking about grass roots architects who still take pride in delivering a completed building with which the client and the users and the builder are happy.
I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of young architects recently who have an open approach to their work. They are busy with 2 established schools who are adding special facilities like a library, media room, IT facility etc.

As the sites are already crammed with buildings developed over years, it really is difficult to insert these important add-ons and retain the integrity of the existing school campus. It has also necessitated having upper floors, and then for this to link in with existing circulation patterns.

These are primary schools, so learners are not full grown, but critically (as far as I’m concerned) should not be deprived of access to such facilities at this stage of their education.

Our Regulations do not exempt schools from complying with Part S Facilities for Disabled People, as pointed out in my last article. It is common practice when working on existing buildings for the designers not to take this too seriously, and just
provide a ‘disabled toilet’ and perhaps a ramp to the front door and expect for it to be approved. And it usually is!

Also, as a society, we probably still subconsciously believe that those people go to special schools.

The illustration is a school at which the architect created a drama court out of the vertical circulation, using this as an opportunity to add value to the project.
It is part of the Integrated National Disability Strategy that schools should be integrated too. If the buildings are accessible we have a chance of able bodied and disabled people integrating at junior school instead of only after Matric.

This particular architectural practice has taken the trouble to ensure that access is provided, to all floors. It was a complicated exercise; figures were worked out with the Quantity Surveyor, and it turned out that the ramped entry was more or less the same cost as using steps. Their design for the new block is not compromised and I feel they have participated in something important, which a lazier professional would not have done.
For the other junior primary school, entry at the main front door would have cost a lot more. Learners are received by the teaching staff on the sports field, so this entry was made accessible, as well as to all the classrooms.

Now disabled teachers and learners will be able to use this school too. A satisfying exercise all round.

I met a young disabled person this week, who had attended a special school. He is ambulant disabled, and if schools were integrated then perhaps he could have been mainstreamed. He would have preferred to be integrated while at school, and maybe it would have been tough being so different physically, but the able bodied people of his own age would have been more mature if they’d been allowed to mix with him then.
I know that teachers are not wholly happy with the integration of disabled learners, but I believe that methods of handling this will be worked out which, on balance, will make for a healthier society. Architects should participate in this, and of course I hope they do.

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