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

Malvika Mehta Travel Fellowship Report

Spain and France, June 26th - July 1st 2014

My itinerary took me to six cities across France and Spain. I encountered diverse and interesting people, places and ideas.  

This opportunity has also been an ideal learning experience because I was able to study accessibility in the context of a variety of spatial scales, and observe many interpretations of universal design. My learning was mostly informal, but the travel has given me much to mull over- I can see my own reflections mature over the last month since I have returned. 

These 5 exhilarating weeks of travel are hard to sum up in a report! Below I revisit some highlights of my travel:


(Left to right) Avila: Walking on the medieval city walls; Universally accessible section of the walls; A square in the heart of the walled city.

On 25th June I arrived in Spain by flight, stopping over for six hours at Zurich, Switzerland. I was immediately struck by the vast difference between the European cityscape and the Indian- they seemed like different planets!  

From the Madrid airport, a commuter train dropped me off, two hours later at the city of Avila, which hosted the ‘IV International Congress of Tourism for All’ from 26th to 28th June. The venue of the Congress was carefully chosen. The City of Ávila was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985. And to better that, Ávila, won the first EU Access City Award in 2010 (illustration1). This was particularly exciting for me- creating accessibility to architectural heritage, also as a route to urban renewal was a theme we pursued in this year’s essay submission (co-authored with my friend, Joyjeet Kanungo).  Not only has the city sensitively adapted and preserved its medieval city walls, and the many medieval heritage sites, but accessible tourism has become an important component of its economy. 

The ‘IV International Congress of Tourism for All’ scheduled is organized every three years by The ONCE Foundation in conjunction with ENAT (European Network for Accessible Tourism) with a focus on imbibing the values of universal design to enhance and enrich the tourism sector.

“Accessible Tourism” broadly stands for tourism and travel that is accessible to all people, with disabilities or not. This year the Congress was conducted at the Lienzo Norte Conference and Exhibition Centre in Avila.  As a student, being in this world of professionals discussing that status of universal accessibility in their country or city was all the more rewarding. 

One realizes that while there were cities where not enough thought is given to creation of accessible environments (such as Delhi) there are cities where living and travelling for everyone is an equally seamless and enjoyable experience.  The Congress was a celebration of all that that has been done around the world to create universally accessible spaces and cities. 

Experience and information was shared by professionals in the workshops, round tables and plenary sessions through the two and a half day event with an audience composed of more than 150 delegates from around 20 countries. A range of fields and stakeholders were represented- architecture, city councils and other administrative bodies, tourism professionals, NGOs, researchers and so on.

The lunch and tea breaks gave the delegates to interact and network with each other.  I too met many interesting people in these breaks who were happy to share their experiences with a student of architecture from India! 

Particular presentations stood out. For example, Ms. Fionnuala Rogerson, Ireland, Director of the International Union of Architects' Architecture for All ", Ireland made a presentation titled "Strategic Planning in Heritage Accessibility". In her crisp and graphic presentation- she left the audience with a series of thought provoking questions to ask themselves, and find these answers for their countries and cities- about standardisation of design, the use of technology to create access as done in the Institute of Engineers, London, compromising or entirely losing the essence of the architectural experience to achieve accessibility, permanent or temporary interventions, and the action cost- feasibility and impact of creating accessible spaces.

Another presentation pursued a different line of thought- how nature deals with accessibility. Delegates also heard about improving access to the Acropolis and the  historic centre of Athens, to the Iguazu natural park, Argentina, to urban parks and historic gardens in Madrid, to museums from Germany, Spain and Australia and labour integration of people with disabilities and the economic opportunity presented by accessible tourism. Many architects discussed how funding and budgetary restrictions are a ubiquitous hurdle faced in the creation of accessible spaces.

There were also some stalls at the venue, where the latest in technological innovation was on display, a lot of which was mobility related. There was also an audio guide to enjoy a painting, designed especially for the blind (illustration 2).

(Left to right) Avila: Display Stalls at the Congress Venue, At the Tactile Museum in the Tourist Centre of the City

On the evening of the June 26th, the participants were given a guided tour of the city of Avila. Being in a group of accessibility experts as well as individuals with different abilities, Avila was critically appreciated as an accessible environment. Our visit began at the Avila Tourist Information centre, which housed a tactile museum that held miniature three dimensional reproductions of the city’s most important sites. This was my first experience at a tactile museum. Again I was reminded how easily accessible information is a delight and of value even to those with no apparent disabilities (illustration 2). 

The next evening a walk to the walls of the city was organised. Avila is known for its largely intact medieval fortifications. Only one section of the walls was adapted for wheelchair accessibility. Earlier in the day I had climbed up the other section of the walls and now put together I could compare the experience (illustration 1).

These three days in the small city of Avila, whose motto is "A City for Everyone" was a great kickstart to this trip. 

Madrid, Barcelona

Awe inspiring: Ciaxa Forum, Madrid; Interiors of Sangrada Familia, Barcelona; Maison Radieuse, Reze; La Tourette Convent, Eveux; Airport Railway Station, Lyon

In my mind, I imagine my whole journey to Europe as a string of these awe inspiring moments where I stand in the environs of breath taking architecture, simultaneously trying to make sense of the spatial experience and marvelling at the genius behind its creation.

I seized this opportunity to explore Madrid and Barcelona in Spain. These cities with their rich architectural heritage, juxtaposed with bold contemporary expression create intense and inspiring urban spaces (illustration 3). I also spent a great deal of time inside museums and galleries viewing the works of art that the cities offered on display. 


(Left to right) Nantes: The Castle of Brittany; A Street in the City that embodies the Ideal of Universal Design; The Converted Warehouses are the  Life of the City.


On July 7th I arrived in France by plane, admiring the views of the lush western French countryside. Nantes, the capital of Brittany, was settled in roughly 70 BC and flourished as the foremost French port, known for its notorious slave-trade. When its ship building industry was relocated outside the city, Nantes transformed into a thriving student and cultural nucleus.

Navigating around Nantes on foot was enjoyable and easy, as one would expect of a city awarded the prestigious “Access City Award” 2012. Nantes comes in second place in the European rankings, behind Berlin.  Not only physical access but access to information in the city was easy and thoughtful. I could clearly see how the ideal of universal accessibility had driven the design and detail of streets and public spaces but how it positively affected the experience for everyone (illustration 4). 

The history museum of the city is housed in the castle (illustration 4). The castle itself is beautiful and what made the experience even more exquisite is the approach adopted by the architects to create universal access in this heritage building, making it a seamless and respectable experience. The access retrofits were bold and held their own, glorifying the ideals of universal design. Information was also creatively shared through graphic story -telling and was aided by tactile and braille panels as well as a sign language expert (illustration 5). 

I was also thrilled to visit the Maison Radieuse (The Radiant City) in Reze near Nantes, one of Le Corbusier’s early social housing projects completed in 1955 that was a pure embodiment of his principles (illustration 3).


Nantes: Views from Inside the History Museum housed inside the Castle of Brittany

The Paralympic Games, held in Lyon, was definitely the highlight of my trip and the most unique experience. Finally to settle down, at least temporarily, in one place after being on the road for almost fifteen days was a relief in itself! Moreover, being in Lyon for three weeks, allowed me the time to really get comfortable in the city in the rhythm of the city. I almost forgot I was a foreigner to the city as I sunk into the routine of a volunteer at the Games.  Experiencing the life in a foreign city is in itself a new and unforgettable experience. As a student of architecture, the Games really gave me the time to observe and reflect about shaping of urban experiences.

I arrived in the city of lights as Lyon if often called,on July 12th, though the Games were to begin only a week later. On 13th July, after registration, I headed up to ‘the volunteer tent’. The Games were organized on an undulating grassy ground on the edge of the city of Lyon, called Parc de Parilly (illustration 6). Large tents were assembled on site, each dedicated to a specific function. Rubber matting was laid on the ground for ease of access. Dry toilets were placed all over the site. Additional wings or tribunals were set up to seat the spectators as the biggest turnout in the history of the Games was expected. One tribunal was set up especially for wheelchair users, complete with user friendly access route (illustration 8). The function and management of the whole event rested on the shoulders of over a thousand volunteers, many of whom had been engaged in this project since six months.

(Left to right) Lyon: The Parilly Stadium; The Charged Environment at the Games; The Paralympians in Action.

I took the time to explore this city of lights as Lyon is known. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (illustration 7). Its Roman and Gallic remains are testimony to this two thousand year old city. I spent an entire day exploring the city on cycle- a completely novel experience for me. In Delhi, where I live, it is uncommon and unpleasant to use a cycle as a means of transport if other modes of transport are available and can be afforded. In Lyon I was absolutely thrilled to cycle with a purpose! I also visited the ‘Cite International’, conceived by Renzo Piano. One of Buckminster Fuller’s early study models for a geodesic dome was on display at the contemporary art museum there (illustration 7).

Lyon: The Croix- Rousse Neighbourhood; ‘Old Lyon’; Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Dome Study

About thirty away minutes by train followed by a thirty minute trek, lies the La Tourette Monastry, also designed by Le Corbusier. Visiting this spiritual building was one more of those uplifting moments that made this trip so special. Experiencing in real, a building that one has read and seen so much about, is truly dreamlike! (illustration 3).

The opening ceremony was held on the evening of 19th July. There was a lot of cheering and positive energy in spite of the rain. This was the biggest event of its kind- 1,100 athletes from 85 countries were set to compete in 207 medal events and media and broadcasters from 25 countries were present to provide coverage.

Lyon with its population of 720,890 and area of only 47.95 km², is a small European city and an extremely small city for a resident of Delhi! The whole city was energized. 25 hotels across the city were booked for the athletes, the media and the officials associated with the event. One could always spot the red volunteer jerseys and the colourful gear bearing the symbols of each country, among the crowds in downtown Lyon. 

There were many components of this experience that I have brought back with me. One of them was watching the actual events as the athletes compete. The events are categorized according to the disability level of the sportspersons. One of the events which particularly impacted me was the long jump competition for T12 category, or the blind athletes. The athletes depend on their sense of sound and of course muscle memory acquired through rigorous practice, to calculate the run up distance and make the jump at the right moment in the correct direction, upon the audio signal from his/her guide. Every now and then, an athlete would trip over or jump outside the pit but never walk back without a smile. Their spirit was admirable! 

Another high point was the recreation ‘Village’ at the Games’ venue. The Village offered one and all a glimpse into the everyday life of a physically challenged individual. For example, one could try a ride on a two-seater tandem bicycle, a ‘trike’ (a tricycle) or a ‘hand crank’ (a three wheeled cycle operated by arms). The tandem bicycle, where my friend and I could co-ordinate through sight and speech is actually designed for a partially sighted or blind user to cycle with a sighted partner. Seemingly minor details really struck me- for instance, how does the blind person actually mount a bike (illustration 8)? One could also try to use a wheelchair and navigate through doorways and different kinds of ramps, play basketball and compete in the boxing rink on the wheelchair. I had not realised the sheer amount of arm strength required to move a mechanical wheelchair.  Recreation for some, but these visits to the village really impacted me, filling me with a sense of urgency. I was reminded once again of how fundamentally a sensitive design can guide/ alter our experience of and in the external environment. 

(Left to right) Lyon: Creating more Comfortable and Easy Access at the Games; The Tribune for Wheelchair Users; Trying out Tamdem Cycling at the Recreation Village.

Especially when dealing with accessible environments, the details- the precise measurement and turn of angle become so important. On the other hand, no design really has integrity unless guided toward an overarching vision- the obvious absence of this in the case of the accommodation 

Unfortunately my lack of fluency in French allowed me only a limited choice of volunteering jobs. I chose to work with the media and my main role was to spend about two to three hours each day cropping the live feed into smaller event videos. This job fit me well because I spent a lot of time watching and observing athletic events on camera and still leaving plenty of time to explore the camp in person. 

I took some time to visit all the other spaces associated with the Games. I visited the Bron stadium, practice facility for all the athletes where the layer of retrofits was easily decipherable (Illustration 9). 

Lyon: At the Practice Facility for the Paralympians.

I also visited a couple of hotels, where upon speaking to the athletes and their accompanying staff. Overall, the idea of accessibility is often imagined as an extra layer of retrofits such as elevator and not as much an experiential design.  For instance there is a vertical stack of rooms that is only one room on each floor of the hotel, which have been designed for wheelchair movement. In the case of the Paralympians, these were not truly usable as they were travelling as a group and naturally preferred to be situated close to each other, on the same floor. 

In another hotel for example, where the British team was put up, there is an elevator to carry the guests to their rooms above, the lobby area of the hotel is also reasonably comfortable, but there was one gaping flaw- the gymnasium and swimming pool in the basement required the user to step down twice from the lift lobby. I got the good chance to speak to the team nurse. She too was saddened over ‘how the thought process just did not exist in the designer.’ The accessibility requirements of different users were considered in terms of some basic facilities, such as elevators but not as a holistic spatial experience. 

At the end of the five weeks, I boarded the expressway to the airport with a heavy heart. And imagine my surprise when I suddenly found myself in the famed and stunning entrance to airport terminal designed by Santiago Calatrava (illustration 3)! It was a wonderful parting gift! 

Being a Berkeley Travel Fellow was an extraordinary experience as it gave me the opportunity to experience and observe the social dimensions of architecture in a variety of settings.



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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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