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

Mandy Oeni - Proposal

Ground-up Inclusive Design Initiatives in USA

One of the most enlightening experiences I had dealing with the theme of disability in community was a ‘blind’ encounter at an exhibition, ‘Dialogue in the Dark’, during an overseas study trip to Seoul. An effective social enterprise movement founded by Andreas Heinecke, the concept reverses the conventional roles of society whereby people who can see are displaced in an unfamiliar setting, while the blind take the lead in a guided journey through fabricated dark rooms. Throughout the tour, my other senses were intensified, as I was taken through scenarios which depict the daily environments of the city. After the initial momentary feeling of confusion, I quickly learnt to appreciate how the various characteristics of scent, sound and touch could create a whole new experience of the city. Through this programme, I started to re-evaluate my preconceived notions of the disabled in society – their experiences are in no way poorer than others, just simply different. My participation in the Berkeley Prize Essay competition is one of my first attempts to emulate the need for cities to expand the breadth of design to incorporate this difference. Focusing on the psychological aspect of social architecture, I discussed the value of design in influencing social stigmas and perceptual barriers that the elderly and disabled face in a dynamic urban environment. As such, it is imperative in designing accessible spaces that we learn to create more communal and people-oriented places, rather than a segregation of ‘handicap-friendly’ areas that are demarcated by attention-grabbing signs and chockfull of labels.

Ground-up initiatives therefore resonate more saliently with what I am interested in, as it reveals a desire for social change at a more personal level. A project entitled ‘Spontaneous Interventions: design actions for the common good’, will take place in Chicago through Summer 2013. Previously, it was displayed at the U.S. Pavilion at the 13th International Exhibition la Biennale di Venezia, winning Special Mention by the jury for National Participation. However, this May, the event will include new projects that represent urban public interventions that improve problematic conditions. Each project that will be specifically chosen will depict realised ideas that are publicly accessible, involve community participation, and improve people’s comprehension, navigation and access to a city in relation to everyday needs. The informal nature of the design projects implemented reflects a different side to accessibility in the city, and deals with movement and action from the community. They embody solutions to real problems, and range from small-scale designs to solving accessibility on a larger urban scale. Being open-participatory in nature, the projects accurately characterise the identity of each locale, and would therefore provide me with culturally useful insights on the urban nature of the city. From the numerous case studies that will be presented, I hope to learn more about how accessibility in the community can be interpreted and designed for in unlikely ways. To elaborate, it would be inspiring to see how the freedom of state allows for miscellaneous mediums to be employed as self-initiated improvements to local communities. Such examples should be advocated to cities internationally, which would then elevate the value of design in influencing sociological behaviours, and eventually improve perceived accessibility of cities.

Creating a diversity of interactions and collective experiences within the cityscape was also one of the points I discussed in the essay on ‘The Architect and the Accessible City’. A city that is universally accessible consists of architecture that is equally designed for people of all ages, nationalities, and abilities. Similarly, art that is inclusive should be socially open as an experience that is shared by everyone. ’FIGMENT’ is an annual large-scale event that celebrates such a culture of participatory art. It is a non-profit weekend festival that builds community through a conglomeration of interactive artworks and installations by artists that will engage participation from the public. Held on Governers Island in New York, the ideal of such social empowerment within the setting of a metropolis is multiplied by the outreach via social media marketing. Volunteer opportunities for the free art fair would enable me to immerse myself within the heart of the project, and understand what goes behind conducting such community-based design events. Getting involved in a public movement would serve to show how design can actively create public awareness on social issues. As an interactive and collaborative art space, the exhibition transforms from a static entity to a dynamic and open programme meant for all. The multifarious activities that would be showcased would also symbolise the distinct ways in which design can enhance inclusiveness in society, effectively expanding my perspectives as a design student.

Subsequently, taking away first-hand insights from the aforementioned fair, I wish to conduct an independent study of universally accessible places within the high-density environment of New York. By documenting various spatial experiences, I intend to represent the city fabric through the eyes of a disabled person situated there. Notably, the Guggenheim Museum could be represented as a potential point of research as it is universally designed in a way that all visitors are brought up to the top of the building via an elevator, and then explored downwards through a series of spiralling ramps. Sketches, photographs and videos will also be used as media to highlight significant sights, scents, sounds, and feelings that would aid the journey undertaken by a person of this special community. Accessibility has more to do than eliminating barriers; rather designing for the senses can help enhance spatial perceptions. New York presents itself to the world as such a vibrant place, a sensory haven for such extraordinary situations to occur as part of the unlimited options offered. Through my observations, I hope to depict this facet of the city and identify the qualities that contribute to more socially inclusive surroundings. Ultimately, the day-by-day journey through the city would hopefully be a discerning tool for learning about accessibility in a quotidian context.

Itinerary: May, 28th: Arrive in New York from Singapore. May 29th: Travel to Chicago. May 30th – June 3rd: Spontaneous Interventions: design actions for the common good (approximate dates, exact event schedule still undetermined). June 4th: Return to New York. June 5th – 7th: Explore daily sights, sounds, scents, tactile qualities of New York City. June 8th – 9th: Volunteer for FIGMENT event. June 10th – June 12th: Mapping accessibility of spaces in New York City. June 13th: Depart New York for Singapore.

Budget: Round-trip flight (Singapore – New York – Singapore) US$1400 Round-trip flight (New York – Chicago – New York) US$150 6 nights accommodation in Chicago (US$40/night) – US$240 10 nights accommodation in New York (US$50/night) – US$500 Food expenses (US$40/day) – US$680 7-Day Metro Card pass – US$30 Other transportation costs – US$100 Programme participation – No entry fees Total expenditure: US$3100

References: Spontaneous Interventions - http://www.spontaneousinterventions.org; Curator: Cathy Lang Ho. FIGMENT - http://newyork.figmentproject.org


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