Rethinking Studios: Designing for People with Disabilities

"I joined the Faculty of Architecture in 1972. Before coming to Berkeley, I had been in practice for eight years in New York City, and I taught at Columbia University. My interests and sympathies were in line with the 'left-leaning' architects of the 1960s succinctly expressed by my own teacher, Percival Goodman, who taught us that the responsibility of the architect was 'not merely to create physical forms, but also to serve as an advocate for improved social conditions.' Berkeley's reputation, and what I found there, made me feel very much at home.

In the 1970s Berkeley was the 'crip capital' of America, a well-deserved reputation because the population included an unusually large number of disabled people living in the town, independently, outside custodial care. For the 1970s this was an unusual situation made possible for two reasons. Various grass roots organizations were active, formed in response to their presence, and the University and the Berkeley community were supportive. A group of former Berkeley students, themselves severely disabled, had recently created The Center for Independent Living (CIL), which offered services that disabled people needed such as accessible housing, attendant care, legal aid, and health counseling. CIL was a unique institution. Through its offices the local population was helped to buck bureaucratic government processes where conventional biases—or regulations—about what was 'best' for the disabled client often made a difference between what was technically available but denied. Observing CIL on a daily basis, I became aware of what the concept of 'access' entailed and of the critical importance of the built environment in allowing 'independent living' to flourish.  

My first teaching assignment was Arch101, Social and Behavioral Factors in Design, an undergraduate studio course, the first of four required for the major in architecture. It was taught each quarter to nearly 100 students. The course title indicated a concept, but there was no curriculum. I knew that others had dealt with these giant factors as routine aspects of 'functionalism' and 'ergonomics' associated with modern architectural design. I welcomed the freedom. From my experience in teaching at Columbia, I knew where I wanted to begin. I had already discovered excellent colleagues who were associated with the new PhD Program in Social and Behavioral Factors, recently established by Roslyn Lindheim. Their students became my graduate student instructors, but in various ways, I became their student, and in other ways, we became colleagues. Halim Abdelhalim, Suzanne Crowhurst, and Dennis Williams were among those students drawn from the pool offered by Lindheim and also by Christopher Alexander's program, The Building Process."

Excerpts on this page from "Rethinking Architecture, 1972-1987" by Raymond LIfchez, in Design on the Edge: A Century of Teaching Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, 1903-2005, (Lowell, Byrne, and Frederick-Rothwell, Eds.), 2009.