The Fifthteenth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2013
Berkeley Prize 2013

Disha Sahu Travel Fellowship Report

19 YTK / IFHP Urban Planning and Design Summer School 2013- Helsinki, Finland.  August 11th- August 25th, 2013.

Greetings from the Scandinavia !!!

Part 1:  Learning from Helsinki

This year's Essay Question asked us to "....provide an overview of what is being done your city to make it accessible to people who have physical disabilities. And what more can be done in your opinion as an architect ? "

A walkable city- Helsinki

 The idea that I developed was ' integrated inclusiveness- the requisite for accessibility',- a system where there is an inherent micro scaled detailed inclusiveness  and a seamless vertical integration between various modes of urban transit to achieve first and last mile connectivity. And travelling to Helsinki made me aware of how this integrated inclusiveness can be achieved in a manner that is rooted in its context, culture and people. 

 Walkability being a core agenda- I decided to tread down the whole city by foot and, only if needed, use public transport (city bus or tram). Navigating the city, I noticed the extensive infrastructure- from sidewalks complete with textured tactile trail, pedestrian crossings, biking lanes, an optimum balance of soft-scape and hardscape, visual and leisure corridors, multi-modal transit, multi-use city blocks, routes of movement and nodes of transition as active public spaces - these, I believe, are critical ideas which form a structure for accessible and walkable cities.

The systematic detailing of materials, texture and signage on the streets of Helsinki not only makes walking an enriching experience but also advocates for walkable, sustainable and accessible cities. In the Scandinavian context, places where demographics and densities are rather low, making public spaces walkable, liveable and accessible is crucial to rendering them public places. And Helsinki has been successful in achieving it. 

Extensive pedestrian infrastructure.

The success of such a systematic and well functioning infrastructure belongs to the fact that Scandinavian countries function on a welfare state model. Thus, the government is fully equipped and entitled to provide for all necessities of living towards its citizens. A unanimous ownership makes projection of urbanity and implementation rather sorted and meticulously executed deeds.  Stable economics backed by moderate population further ensures that the ground results are achieved. But the system has its own set of flaws. Being a welfare state, the scheme is extremely paternalistic in its outlook. Thus there is a "everything looks same" phenomenon. Highly ordered and sometimes mundane, this urbanity lacks human energy and does not reflect sufficiently on the aspiration of people.  Asian cities which thrive on a collage like character and are brimming with human energy are enigmatically more inviting and thus (conceptually) more accessible. And therefore now I imagine, the ideal condition of accessible environment really lies somewhere in between. Sufficiently supported with physical infrastructure at the same time brimming with inviting character and human warmth.

Part 2:  The Summer School Task - REDESIGNING THE 21 st CENTURY URBAN BLOCK

As a part of the Urban Design Summer School at Aalto University, we were asked to analyse  a former soap factory (Saipuaa Centre) site located right at the edge of the city centre in Turku, Finland. This  site borders between a historic, residential city centre and a former industrial area. The task was to create a conceptual framework and a plan for the soap factory area (geographical area = 4500 sqm) with an understanding of multi-faceted nature of urban development.

The Summer School Team.


Proposal (excerpts from the final design proposal as a part of submittal at summer school)


Due to the dynamic nature of society, the ways in which people navigate, inhabit and activate places;  cities change over time.  Certain areas become more or less attractive with time, urban order and function.  The built and natural environments evolve. Population increases and user needs diversify.  Urban blocks can have many different functions over time and therefore may cater to global or local  levels of urbanity. Historic cities such as Turku  also contain industrial areas that have lost their main functions as the economy shifts and often face the challenge of adapting to the needs of 21st century society.  What kind of built environment is most suitable for an evolving socioeconomic and cultural locale?  How can design interventions enhance the functionality and vibrancy of today’s society? We propose that a key element is flexibility and accessibility given today’s evolving world.


A chance to create dynamic urban public space

The opportunity to revisit the Soap Factory is not merely a chance to enhance a set of buildings. It is moreover an opportunity to envision what a dynamic urban block may achieve. Turku’s unique character as a historic, economic and cultural hub yields an interesting example of urban polycentricity. Potential exists for the soap factory to become a substantial node in the city. By infusing flexible, accessible and inviting spaces into the urban landscape, we envision a fresh start at a local scale that can in turn create a more balanced and connected Turku.

A Vision for the Site Area:  A New Mental Map

The soap factory site.


The block is situated by Ruissalontie, to the west of the city grid area. On the south side the Soap  is separated from the wooden house district of Port Arthur by a main road Pansiontle, railroad track and wooden wall.  In analysing the site, the authors identified current navigational paths between the site, its surrounding area and beyond. The authors then proceeded to identify potential new paths that may offer comfortable and easy connections between the site and Turku’s other destinations.

In this project, the authors see the Pansiontle railway track as a physical and mental barrier, but also as a connecting element since the road connects the Soap Factory (area) to the suburbs of Turku.  Such broader connections are captured by the red and blue arrows, which mark the potential mental pathways that could seamlessly link the new developments with older established destination areas.

The Soap Factory can play a role as connecting node for the area, especially given the significant master plan and transportation plan for the area. As previously mentioned, the current master plan for the area intends to create a balanced mix of housing that could cater to a wider demographic range. Yet despite such intents, the resulting mix of users is ultimately unpredictable and likely to evolve. Similarly, the transportation plan for the area includes the introduction of light rail near the site as well as an eventual rerouting of the railway (Keskikastari, 2013). Such plans may infuse an unpredictable mix of users and modes of transportation.

The breakdown of mental barriers may be achieved organically through the changes in transportation modes and the influx of a more diverse local population.  To support such changes and the ultimate goal of created a more connected Turku, the authors suggest the implementation of green and navigable paths. The current track could be transformed into a green recreational park, taking inspiration from New York’s high line depicted in the photos below.  Such transformations could enhance the aesthetic and sensory quality of connections within the city that in turn yield a more balanced city where people can walk and linger in a greener environment.



As a vision for the Soap Factory, the authors wish make a fresh start for the area while linking to Turku’s historic past. The vision for the Soap Factory is built up around 3 key concepts: accessibility, flexibility and inviting.


The Soap Factory’s urban block must be designed in a way that it accommodates people of all ages and abilities. We want the block to be a connecting node in a network of nodes such as LOGOMO and other nodes in Turku. Furthermore, the block must be accessible from different sides and must attract people from different direction. We want to achieve this by creating sightlines that showcase people an activity inside the block.


To be able to adapt to evolving needs of a range of users, the authors’ vision also centres on the notion of flexible space.  As a general principle, flexibility will be built into any renovations of the buildings so that user can alter the spaces according to temporal needs. For example, living spaces could be condensed to give way to pop up work spaces while common areas could be made through malleable interiors. 

Flexible structures would also cater to evolving modes of transportation, hopefully moving away from car culture to that of shared bike schemes or communal gardens.  For example, the authors have conceived of a flexible metal structure for in the heart of the block. This structure can have different uses over time such as parking, working, living etc. In this way the concept encourages mixed and dynamic use.


To attract people to the Soap Factory’s block, it must be an inviting place. Engaging design should foster collaboration and user agency. By creating meeting places and having group activities for different seasons, the authors want to create a lively environment. One way of attracting people is by opening a market at one of the main entrances of the Soap Factory, enticing people into the urban block to explore the inner square where a mix of uses meet. Around the inner square would also be a café, communal spaces where new ways of working are facilitated, and a day-care centre. By mixing such different functions and providing services that enhance the user experience, the authors hope to encourage the meeting of people in the lively heart of the block.


For the implementation of the plan for the Soap Factory, the authors propose three different phases which could be staggered in time and altered in scope according to economic shifts, financial feasibility, population growth rates and evolving needs. Such phases are depicted in the images below in which different colours denote various the phases of potential development.


Phase 1: encouraging place-making

  • Introducing affordable young family housing (capturing available market )
  • Options for small entrepreneur work space: pop up workstations from houses
  •  Road: slow down the arterial traffic, biking lanes and pedestrianised sidewalks introduced
  •  Temporary parking spaces for cars
  • Micro landscape strategy for reviving the brown field soil growing capacity: changing textures of floor to and design to start revitalising soil
  •  Productive landscape strategy and softscaping for leisure activities

Phase 2: increasing access  (when light rail arrives)

  • Infill housing: increase in temporal housing option for floating population -students and Young urban professional to achieve critical density.
  • Work: art workshops and studios are introduced from the pop-up workstation typology.
  • Road traffic slows down, light rail arrives and the existing redundant track transforms itself into a park, the Portsa wall barrier (adjacent to the railway track) comes down.
  • Parking: increase in street parking,  the flexible parking structure now scales itself down as a vertical green park.

Phase 3: maintaining vibrancy

  • Housing ( aspirational) for young families and Young urban professional.
  •  Adding recreational facility for growing residential population: introduce a form of entertainment (e.g. movie theatre) and indoor spaces where people of all ages could linger, exercise or meet.
  •  Activism for the soap factory to be conserved and adaptively reused as recreational space.


As seasons change, as new and old neighbors meet, as transportation modes and routes evolve, as new tastes develop, the urban block also needs to evolve in order to cater to changes in the social, economic and cultural context.  While the authors have presented a vision for a well-connected city and an urban node that is user-friendly and user-driven, the authors acknowledge that any conceptual plan may need to be altered given changing circumstances, development pressures, as well as changing preferences for housing, transportation modes and public amenities. As such, the authors stress the need to create a space that is ultimately adaptable to people’s ways of life and needs, even if that entails having to alter or cut out phases of implementation. Indeed, public space is ultimately for people.

The design outcomes.
Design studio at work


References (for design proposal) :

Keskikastari, P. (2013). IFHP/YTK Summer School: 21st Century Urban Block [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved directly from author.

Aalto University and IFHP. YTK/IFHP Summer School Themes and Workshops. Retrieved on August 23, 2013, from

Vasanan, A. (2012). Functional Polycentricity: Examining Metropolitan Spatial Structure through the Connectivity of Urban Sub-Centres. Urban Studio







Additional Help and Information

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Like everyone else, this worker in Mexico needs transportation to his job. Public transport needs to be accessible for persons with mobility, sensory, and cognitive disabilities.
Persons with disabilities around the world are promoting transport systems that provide mobility for everyone. Mexican disability advocates are shown meeting with local transit officials to promote accessible transport. AEI has published guides to assist planners and advocates of inclusive transportation.
An accessible travel chain begins with safe streets and sidewalks. This street in Foshan, China, has separate rights-of-way for pedestrians, human-powered vehicles, and motor-powered vehicles.
Disability advisors at Rio de Janeiro’s Independent Living Center monitored access features for this street crossing, part of the Rio City Project.
Tactile guideways and tactile warning strips assist blind and sight-impaired pedestrians as well as others in Foshan, China.
Tactile warnings alert this blind person crossing a mid-street island in San Francisco, USA.
Busy intersections benefit from pedestrian controlled buttons and assist blind persons to cross through sound and vibration signals
Tactile warnings protect blind persons – and all other passengers – from getting too close to the platform edge in transit stations.
This footway adjacent to a road in Tanzania is protected by curb pieces which separate motor traffic from pedestrians and bicycles. Such basic safety measures are needed to prevent pedestrian injuries along roadways in many countries.
Even better, pedestrian and non-motorized traffic can be kept safely removed from motorized traffic by accessible sidewalks separated from the roadway, in this case by a well-designed drainage system along a main road in Tanzania. Speed bumps are used to slow traffic at crosswalks.
This pedestrian crosswalk provides level access to a bus island at an inter-modal transfer center in Mexico City.
Photo by T. Rickert, courtesy of DFID (UK) and TRL (UK).
Ticket vending machines should be low enough for use by wheelchair users and all short persons, as illustrated by the good design of this machine at a BART station in the San Francisco Bay area, USA.
Stairs are often retrofitted with stair lifts in transit terminals, as here in a Tokyo subway station. However, in new construction, elevators should be considered where possible.
A wheelchair user takes the elevator from the platform level of the Shenzhen, China, railroad station.
Wide doors are needed to accommodate wheelchair riders entering fare-paid areas of transit terminals, as in this subway station in Rio de Janeiro.
Everyone can safely board this BART train, due to a minimal horizontal and vertical gap.
However, care must be taken that horizontal gaps are not too wide. The orange “gap filler” pops up when the doors open in San Francisco’s Muni Metro, assuring a safe gap.
Small portable ramps can provide inexpensive access in many rail stations, as shown here in Tokyo.
All passengers, and especially deaf and hard-of-hearing passengers, benefit from well-located visual information, as with this route display on board a train to the Hong Kong airport.
Advocates Anjlee Agarwal (left) and Sanjeev Sachdeva board the accessible Delhi Metro on its inaugural run.
Photo courtesy of Sanjay Sakaria and Samarthya, from Amar Ujjala Indian Daily
Express buses in Curitiba, Brazil, exemplify universal design. All passengers, including those with disabilities, quickly board with level entry. Similar Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems operate in Quito, Ecuador; Bogota, Colombia, and a growing number of cities around the world.
Photo by Charles Wright, Inter-American Development Bank.
Construction of this Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) trunk line corridor in Pereira, Colombia, symbolizes the rapid spread of BRT systems around the world. BRT systems lend themselves to universal design, but details must be monitored carefully to maximize accessibility.
Although most BRT busways are on broad thoroughfares, this exclusive single-direction bus lane nearing completion in Pereira illustrates that BRT systems can sometimes be built on narrow streets.
This and above photo by T. Rickert courtesy of World Bank
The photo shows an articulated bus docking at a Bus Rapid Transit station in León, Mexico.
Pre-paid passengers inside a station board a high-capacity BRT bus in León.
This and above photo courtesy of Sistema Integrado de Transporte Masivo de León
A prototype low-floor bus is tested in New Delhi adjacent to a platform the same height as the bus floor.
A closeup of the same bus stop illustrates the advantages of fast boarding for all passengers from platforms that eliminate the need for climbing steps to board.
This and above photo courtesy of Gerhard Menckhoff of the World Bank.
This prototype lift-equipped bus serves Mamelodi Township in South Africa. Note the excellent use of contrasting colors.
Photo by T. Rickert, courtesy of DFID (UK) and TRL (UK).
Mexico City officials inaugurated service in 2001 with 50 new buses equipped with lifts and other access features.
Photo courtesy of Marìa Eugenia Antunez.
In addition to a wheelchair lift, this bus in Mexico City has a retractable step beneath the front entrance.
This low-floor bus in Warsaw, Poland, uses an inexpensive hinged ramp which provides easy boarding for passengers with disabilities.
A low-floor bus in Hong Kong also exhibits excellent color contrast, using a bright yellow on key edges and surfaces.
Transit systems around the world have reserved seating for seniors and passengers with disabilities, and often for pregnant women as well, as found on this TransMilenio bus in Bogotá, Colombia.
Even when bus stops are not accessible to wheelchair users, access for seniors and others with disabilities can be enhanced by a level all-weather pad even in the absence of paved sidewalks. The photo is from a TransMilenio feeder route in Bogotá.
This and above photo by T. Rickert courtesy of World Bank.
Thousands of Mexico City’s small inaccessible microbuses are being recycled and replaced with larger vehicles, often with better access features.
One such feature is this priority seating located behind the driver where there is extra leg room and it is easier for blind passengers to hear the driver call out key stops.
Photo by T. Rickert, courtesy of DFID (UK) and TRL (UK).
In other new buses in Mexico City, a wide rear door has low steps and is easily accessed by semi-ambulatory passengers from a raised sidewalk, but requires that drivers carefully pull in to the curb.
Photo by T. Rickert, courtesy of DFID (UK) and TRL (UK).
Community initiatives are playing a growing role in providing accessible door-to-door transport in many countries. This accessible van in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, belongs to the six-vehicle fleet of Persatuan Mobiliti.
Photo courtesy of Persatuan Mobiliti
Artist’s conception of a three-wheeled door-to-door vehicle connecting with an accessible ramped platform with bridge at a bus stop at a key site.
This prototype three-wheeled vehicle was built with AEI’s assistance by Kepha Motorbikes in Nairobi, Kenya.
Detail showing entry via a ramp at the rear of the test vehicle.
This and above photo courtesy of Wycliffe Kepha.
This accessible bicycle rickshaw in India has a rear door which serves as a ramp.
Photo courtesy of Bikash Bharati Welfare Society and Lalita Sen.
A public meeting in Cali, Colombia, discusses accessibility to Bus Rapid Transit systems. Readers can go to the Bus Rapid Transit Accessibility Guidelines in our Resources section, under the links to the World Bank.
Photo by T. Rickert, courtesy of the World Bank.
In this version, the bridge piece is mounted under the platform and put into place by the bus driver.
This and above photo courtesy of DFID (UK) and CSIR Transportek (South Africa).
This test in South Africa of a prototype platform for use at key sites shows an alternative approach to access for wheelchair users.
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