arch-peace editorials

27 August 2019

A new built environment paradigm needed!

by Mary Ann Jackson

In our rapidly urbanising modern world existing communities, neighbourhoods, are the most prevalent population site (Carmichael 2017). Nonetheless, for decades people with disability 1 have identified the inaccessibility of the existing built environment as a significant problem. The parts of the neighbourhood built environment about which people with disability are most dissatisfied are, housing, the public realm pedestrian environment, and public transport built infrastructure (Jackson 2018). However built environment disciplines commonly operating at neighbourhood scale, spatial disciplines, pay scant attention to people with disability (Pineda, Meyers, and Cruz 2017). Therefore, to effectively address neighbourhood-scale built environment inaccessibility, a new paradigm of built environment praxis is needed.

Getting lunch in the 'hood can be an insurmountable task (image: Saumya Kaushik).
Powerchair user outside lunchbar with 150mm raised entry right across doorway.

   A new paradigm is needed because historically, and still, there is an abyss between the Disability and Built Environment domains in matters of theory, polity, and practice. People with disability are largely not of interest to built environment theorists and frequently not included in built environment-related research projects. Built environment practitioners 2 are unfamiliar with accessibility expectations and fail to realise that entrenched ways of practice continue to construct disability. The resultant inaccessibility of the existing built environment, particularly at neighbourhood scale, for people with disability has become the status quo. Complexity theory, the social model of disability, transdisciplinarity, and human rights-based approaches to built environment delivery offer keys to unlocking this impasse.

Complexity theory

    Urbanisation is ever-increasing. Thirty percent of the world's population lived in urban areas in 1950, 55% in 2018, and a projected 68% will live in urban areas in 2050 (UNESA 2018). Therefore, cities are the main sites of interaction between people and the built environment. Cities can be characterised as complex adaptive systems. Complexity theory has been defined as a multi-agent system theory with potential system-changing agency attributed to not just the actors (ie, persons) involved but all sub-systems (eg, the neighbourhood, the built environment) and components within the system (Peter and Swilling 2014). The built environment sub-system of a city does not magically self-propagate, 'people' create it. With this in mind, the complexity theory term 'socio-ecological' can be usefully re-construed as 'people-environment', thereby opening up a space for examining interaction between people with disability and the built environment, refer Figure 1. Addressing built environment inaccessibility for people with disability involves multiple, diverse actors, disciplines, and  sectors. Disjuncture between disability policy development frameworks and built environment accessibility legislation enactment and enforcement, further highlights the multiplicity of disciplinary and sectoral perspectives. Therefore, improving neighbourhood-scale built environment accessibility for people with disability requires much people-people interaction across diverse perspectives as a first element of the solution. Outcomes, however, are critically affected by the way in which these interactions position disability.
Figure 1: Appply Complexity Theory (diagram: Saumya Kaushik)
Complexity Theory provides an umbrella to explore people with disability - built environment interaction through
people - people connection

Social model of disability

   Disability models are intrinsic to Disability Studies and Critical Disability Studies. Built environment practitioners, however, generally lack knowledge of such conceptions. Worldwide, and certainly in Australia, architects and designers, planners, constructors, and related disciplines, have little appreciation of either designing 'universally' or awareness of the lived experience of people with disability. This is problematic as, historically, built environment practitioners control the built environment and hence built environment accessibility outcomes. As espoused by the Social Model of Disability, disability is not a pre-existing, independent condition. In distinguishing between impairment and disability, the social model deems disability to be socially constructed. Disability is not ascribed to an individual's impairment but, rather, results from interaction between body and environment. The nature and experience of disability is, therefore, intrinsically linked to the form and content of the built environment, refer Figure 2. Thus, both definition and status (ie, the level of importance ascribed to the experiences of people with disability) of disability within built environment practice need re-casting. To accomplish this built environment practitioners must recognise that the built environment is a disabling instrument in itself and seek to work together with the disability domain.

Figure 2: Deconstruct 'Disability' (diagram: Saumya Kaushik)
Steps preclude wheelchair users moving through the neighbourhood; ramped access enables participation and social inclusion


   Improving existing built environment accessibility at neighbourhood scale requires many diverse actors working participatorily, inter-disciplinarily, and cross-sectorially. Collaboratively working together generating people-people interaction across disciplines, across sectors, and with 'non-experts' (expert users) as active participants is a succinct definition of transdisciplinarity. The Zurich 3 approach to transdisciplinarity, commonly referenced in socio-ecological inquiry, offers clues for facilitating diverse actors in multiple sectors across multiple domains of research evidence, policy implementation, and practical application, to work together on complex problems such as the retro-fitting of existing communities.

   Zurich-ian transdisciplinarity is 'a way of thinking' informing practice. Constructively, transdisciplinarity invariably involves 'synthesis of knowledge from different disciplines and stakeholders' and 'integrated research support for policy and practice change' (Bammer 2016, p1 of 15). Effecting (positive) change, that is, improving the accessibility of the built environment, involves many inter-related activities. Positive change is enabled by knowledge translation which requires meaningful exchange, partnership between the domains of research evidence, policy implementation, and practical application (de Leeuw, McNess, Crisp, and Stagnitti 2008; Carmichael 2017). In this context, transdisciplinarity encompasses all sectors and actors including people with disability as expert users and disciplinary experts. Effective partnerships working together transdisciplinarily are even more important when retro-fitting existing communities, refer Figure 3.

   Designing-in significant, collaborative, roles for people with disability is also a feature participatory approaches widely championed in Disability Studies, Critical Disability Studies, and, most recently, in Critical Access Studies. Participation in decisions and services is framed as a human right for people within a rights-based perspective aligned within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Nonetheless, people with disabilities' and their representative organisations continue to be denied participation in changing the built environment.
Figure 3: Work together (diagram: Saumya Kaushik)
People with disability working together with built environment practitioners, NGO/NfP representatives and
government creating accessible neighbourhoods

Human rights-based approaches to built environment delivery (via transdisciplinarity)

   Human rights-based approaches, while common within contemporary human development theory and practice, appear to be overlooked within the general built environment sphere. The issue of 'rights', as distinct from 'regulatory compliance', is little explored in relation to built environment accessibility. Building on the social model of disability, the human rights model of disability includes political, civil, economic, and cultural rights (Degener 2016). All these human rights are fully incorporated in the UNCRPD. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities makes it clear that rights-based approaches are essential to improving legislative frameworks and accessibility outcomes (Comm CRPD 2014; Comm CRPD 2016). O'Herlihy and Winters (nd) note that, in Ireland 4, the emergence of a rights-based approach to disability has engendered various built environment accessibility (improvement) initiatives. Co-design, with expert users integral to the consultant team, is exemplary rights-based practice. In Australia, beyond regulatory compliance, always designing-in handrails to both sides of stairs is an example of rights based reasoning, as is designing-in accessible, dignified, evacuation routes. In the context of housing in Australia, Bringolf (2009) posits visitability as a 'rights-based approach to providing equitable access at a family and neighbourhood level' (p3 of 13).

   The UNCRPD mandates that signatory nations, such as Australia, recognise people with disability as rights-holders. Conversely, built environment practitioners are largely unaware of disability, people with disability as rights-holders, and the responsibilities of their own duty-bearer status as controllers of the built environment, refer Figure 4. However, rights-holders' participation and inclusion in decision-making processes is essential, and therefore a way to enable this in built environment praxis is necessary.
Figure 4: Hold duty-bearers to account (diagram: Saumya Kaushik)
A human rights-based approach forms a feedback loop. To achieve equality and non discrimination,
people with disability, rights-holders, must be empowered to participate and built environment practitioners, duty-bearers, must be held to account
A new built environment praxis

   People with disability should be empowered to realise inclusion within their local community as they wish. Essential to that goal is the improvement of the accessibility of the existing built environment at neighbourhood scale. Built environment practitioners should re-purpose the complexity theory term 'social-ecological' thereby enabling the exploration of people with disability-built environment interaction. Built environment practitioners must recognise that, as explained by the social model of disability, built environment practice is a potent disabling instrument in itself. Built environment practitioners should look to transdisciplinarity as it offers clues in facilitating diverse actors in multiple sectors across multiple domains of research evidence, policy implementation, and practical application to work together to deal with complex problems. Built environment practitioners must comprehend the significance of their duty-bearer status as controllers of the built environment and that people with disability are, intrinsically, rights-holders. Therefore, to address neighbourhood-scale built environment inaccessibility for people with disability, a new paradigm of built environment praxis, refer Figure 5, embracing complexity theory, the social model of disability, transdisciplinarity, and human-rights based approaches is proposed.
Figure 5:  A new paradigm created (diagram: Saumya Kaushik)
Creating a new paradigm for built environment praxis places people with disability at the centre

1 The term ‘people with disability’, rather than ‘disabled people’ is the preferred term in Australia as consistent with a person-first approach, recognising the primacy of an individual’s personhood, and hence will be used in this article. For further information refer  Australian Federation of Disability organisations (AFDO)
2 Built environment practitioners:‘Spanning across all sectors, the terms ‘built environment practice’ and ‘built environment practitioner’ are intentionally broader than conventional disciplinary descriptors ofarchitecture/architect, planning/planner, and the like, and signify all those involved in legislating,shaping, funding, forming, making, and researching the built environment.’ Jackson 2018.
3 The phenomenological (practical) Zurich approach to transdisciplinarty was originally developed by Gibbons, Limoges, Nowotny, Schwartzman, Scott, and Trow in 1994.
4 Ireland is a leading proponent of ‘accessibility in the built environment’, see for example, The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design (CEUD). CEUD was established by the National Disability Authority (NDA) in January 2007 under the (Ireland) Disability Act 2005.

Bammer 2016. Tools for transdisciplinary research Transdisciplinary. Chapter 4 in Research and Practice for Sustainability Outcomes, edited by Dena Fam, Jane Palmer, Chris Riedy, Cynthia Mitchell. Taylor & Francis Group, 2016.
Bringolf, Jane. 2009. Calling a Spade a Shovel: Universal, accessible, adaptable, disabled – aren’t they all the same? Published in Randolph, B., Burke, T., Hulse, K. and Milligan, V. (Editors). Refereed papers presented at the 4th Australasian Housing Researchers Conference, Sydney,5th - 7th August 2009. Sydney: City Futures Research Centre, University of New South Wales.
Carmichael, L. 2017. Healthy cities: the evidence and what to do with it. Urban Design Group Journal, Issue 142, p. 20-22,
Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Comm CRPD). 2014. General comment No. 2 (2014). Eleventh session, 31 March–11 April 2014
Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Comm CRPD). 2016.  Guidelines on periodic reporting to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, including under the simplified reporting procedure. Adopted by the Committee at its sixteenth session (15 August-2 September 2016).  
de Leeuw, Evelyne, Andrew McNess, Beth Crisp, and Karen Stagnitti. 2008. Theoretical reflections on the nexus between research, policy and practice. Critical Public Health, 18: 1, pp 5–20. DOI: 10.1080/09581590801949924.
Degener, Theresia. 2016. Disability in a Human Rights Context. Laws 5: 35.
Gibbons, Michael, Camille Limoges, Helga Nowotny, Simon Schwartzman, Peter Scott, and Martin Trow. 1994. The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies. SAGE Publications
Jackson, Mary Ann. 2018. Models of Disability and Human Rights: Informing the Improvement of Built Environment Accessibility for People with Disability at Neighborhood Scale? Laws 7, no. 1: 10. DOI:
O’Herlihy, Eoin and Jim Winters. nd. Built Environment Accessibility: The Irish Experience. National Disability Authority, Dublin
Peter, Camaren and Mark Swilling. 2014. Linking Complexity and Sustainability Theories: Implications for Modeling Sustainability Transitions.  Sustainability Issue 6, 1594-1622; doi:10.3390/su6031594
Pineda, Victor S., Stephen Meyers, John Paul Cruz. 2017. The Inclusion Imperative. Forging an Inclusive New Urban Agenda. The Journal of Public Space, 2: 4. ISSN 2206-9658
United Nations. 2006. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities—Articles. Available online: (accessed on 10 November 2017).

25 February 2019

Walled City of Lahore

Figure 1. New construction of Chowk Purani Kotwali - formerly a police kiosk in Mughal times. Street hawkers circle the avenue with their food stalls.
Image credit: IKAN Engineering Services

With a history reaching back more than 2000 years, Lahore has evolved gradually but continuously from a nonentity into a metropolitan city. Lahore is the second most populous city of Pakistan and the provincial capital of Punjab. It lies on the north-eastern part of Punjab and is close to the border of India [Figure 2]. It has almost always been the center of attention of the finest Mughals, as well as the British; so much so that in 1670 John Milton could not help but write: “Agra and Lahore, the Seat of the Great Mughal”.

20 June 2018

A Place to Live

 © Camille Gharbi

These pictures were taken over spring 2016, in what was called the Calais Jungle.
They display some of the constructions that were built by refugees and association workers in the slum, which sheltered several thousands of people since 2014 and was dismantled in October 2016 on government order.

The constructions shown here are decontextualized.
They are isolated from the original environment which has polarized media attention for so many years and about which so much as been said, shown, written on, and which was finally destroyed as no better option was found. Perhaps so that it can’t be seen anymore.

25 March 2018

ARTICLE | Patterns of Footscray

Understanding Melbourne’s multicultural melting pot

A Vietnamese grocer on Paisley Street extends its shop onto the footpath Image: Jimi Connor.

Underneath the perceived boundaries and divisions of Melbourne’s suburbs exists a fluid and constantly evolving network of multicultural communities. Arguably, these overlooked populations have played a pivotal role in the development of the social and cultural fabric of Melbourne; helping to define now sought-after suburbs like Carlton, Brunswick and Collingwood. The suburb of Footscray, located five kilometres west of the city of Melbourne, is a major point of confluence for some of Melbourne’s largest multicultural communities. From its infamous notoriety as a haven for drug users, to its current status as an entry point for immigrants, the urban environment of Footscray has successfully adapted to accommodate to the needs of a constantly developing city. It has achieved this by enacting an alternative model of urban development: whereby different waves of immigrant communities have been able to alter and adapt the urban environment—to suit their own particular practices and identities. The result is an urban fabric that is wholly unique: a complex hybrid of contrasting cultural practices, which overlap and intertwine with one another.