Have a quick look at the image above of the Promenada in Velenje, Slovenia, designed by ENOTA. What do you “see” when you examine the site photo? Notice anything atypical about the design compared to the public spaces here in Ontario? Depending on my point-of-view, I see two different sites entirely.
As an able-bodied, (self-proclaimed) fit, 20-something-year-old who loves to explore, the Promenada looks like a great place to spend my afternoons dipping my feet in the river, having a bite to eat with a friend or getting in some light exercise climbing up and down the cascading walls. The space looks inviting to me. I would definitely be in a position to benefit from my mobile abilities, because I could access every square inch of space.
Now, from the perspective of a landscape designer working in Ontario, I nearly gasp at the possible injuries, and lawsuits to follow, that could occur in a public space such as this one. I see multiple grade changes greater than 600mm that are not protected by guardrails. I see a lack of staircases and ramps, or any handrails for that matter. Shouldn’t there be signs warning people of the possible rising currents of the river? Or tactile surfaces to alert visually impaired pedestrians? As a designer schooled in Ontario and working in Ontario, I have been trained to consider public safety and site accessibility during the early design concept stages. Not that that’s a bad thing! However, if the site I’m analyzing has significant grade changes, it’s hard not to feel the slightest bit constrained by the looming building codes that will most definitely come into play throughout the design process.
The Promenada, although a beautifully designed piece of architecture, would not be approved in Ontario. Maximum allowed fall heights, stair risers without a handrail, ramp slopes, cross slopes, etc. were put into place to keep the population safe while they access a public space. This is something landscape architects can’t fault the policy makers for doing. The only people we can fault for not creating an engaging environment that the public can explore in any season, at any age, regardless of disabilities, is ourselves. Canadians pride themselves of is inclusivity of others, and landscape architects play a large role in designing spaces that allow people of all abilities to experience them just as the person next to them would.
My personal goal moving forward is to design with every potential user of my project site in mind. I will also challenge myself to not limit my designs to the minimum requirements, as specified in a building code. Instead, I’ll attempt to maximize the usable space in order to increase the experiential pleasure of the site user. Considering that the population is only growing, I’m sure people will appreciate a little extra elbowroom in their lives. I hope other professionals in the field of landscape architecture are striving towards similar goals, because as I mentioned, the role we play in providing beautifully accessible landscapes is immense. It is our responsibility to embrace the challenge of providing accessible and safe sites as we strive for great design.