Practicing ArchitecturePracticing Architecture
TOTO Demonstrates Universal Design to AIA Leaders at Convention
The message is that universal design needs to be part of best practices
By William Richards
If you could be 80 years old for thirty minutes—and re-learn all of the things you know about your own mobility—would you do it?
That was the idea behind TOTO’s Universal Design Experiential Mini-Course on Friday at the AIA National Convention, in which participants donned a “suit” of Velcro bands intended to mimic muscle and joint stiffness. Once assembled, the suit challenged participants to do simple bathroom tasks like get out of a wheelchair and onto a toilet, or wheel up to a sink to wash their hands. Weights around the ankles, stiff bands around the major joints and torso, vision-impairing goggles, and ear plugs that muffled high-frequency sounds ensured that even the act of turning around proved difficult.
“You’re totally immobile! You can’t move around at all. Now I know exactly how my mother feels, and it’s really changed the way I think about her quality of life,” said Marion Fowlkes, FAIA, the 2011 AIA National Convention Advisory Committee chair, who was the first to demonstrate the suit.
“It’s remarkable—the smallest things become the biggest challenges,” said Creed Brierre, FAIA, another 2011 AIA National Convention Chair, who followed Fowlkes in demonstrating the suit.
Fowlkes and Brierre were asked to perform typical bathroom operations in a conventional bathroom, which included a round toilet bowl that is uncomfortable for many people, fixtures that are out of reach for some users, and a mirror that cannot tilt for shorter users. Beside it, TOTO’s universally designed bathroom improved on these oversights. Grab-bars, generous space, an elongated and ovular toilet bowl, and a tilted mirror may not have reversed the “aging” process for Fowlkes and Brierre, but it improved their experience.
“Universal design needs to be part of best practices,” said Gunnar Baldwin, a water efficiency specialist for TOTO USA and AIA Strategic Partnership liaison. “That’s the conclusion here, and really, should be the beginning of any conversation about design.”