It’s all in the Details: Designing for Passive House & Accessibility Compliance

The number of multifamily residential projects targeting Passive House certification has been rising steadily over the past several years, bringing along many exciting challenges. This has been especially prevalent in New York City, where increasingly stringent energy standards and a desire for innovation have made designing to Passive House standards an attractive goal. As the number of these projects passing through our office continues to grow, we have discovered some important overlaps with one of our other consulting services – Accessibility Compliance.

In the United States, multifamily new construction projects consisting of four or more dwelling units are subject to the Fair Housing Act, as well as state, city, and local accessibility laws and codes. For the purposes of this blog we will focus on projects in NYC, although the majority of newly constructed residential projects across the country will be subject to some variation of the criteria discussed below, for both Passive House and Accessibility standards. With this in mind, we have chosen a couple of common problem areas that require particularly close attention. Read more

Tech Notes: Accessibility of Luxury Amenities

Bathtubs for Pets® Model ADA60HGTY

As the development of luxury multifamily housing in primarily urban areas continues to rise, SWA’s team of accessibility consultants has been encountering more and more specialty rooms and features that bring accessibility into question. Wine cellars, yoga and meditation rooms, and even clothing vaults (fur coat, anyone?) are all making their way onto the scene as luxury amenities available for residents of high-end real estate. While current accessibility laws and codes remain silent on many of these types of spaces specifically, they are not exempt from accessibility requirements.

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Shifting Perspectives: Experiencing Accessibility Challenges

Katie negotiating a curb ramp and crosswalk with the aid of a cane while wearing vision-altering goggles.

Written by Katie Chevalier, Accessibility Specialist

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend a training session entitled “Shifting Your Perspective: Experience and Plan for Accessibility Challenges,” which was hosted by the Dutchess County Planning Federation. The course syllabus was broken down into two components: experiential and site planning. The goal of the experiential portion of the course was to provide attendees with a variety of simulated sensory and ambulatory challenges and have them navigate the built environment. While the course was primarily geared toward local municipal planning boards, there were valuable lessons to take with me, both in my role as an Accessibility Specialist and as a county resident interested in learning first-hand the challenges that people with disabilities face every day.

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Tech Notes: Universal Design v. Accessible Design

“Isn’t Universal Design just a different term for Accessible Design?” We hear this from architects and designers a lot. While similarities exist, Accessible Design and Universal Design are actually quite different.

outlets, switches, env controls

This image depicts the prescriptive Accessible Design requirements for light switches and operable parts under the Fair Housing Act. Unlike Universal Design, Accessible Design is not intended to be flexible, with little or no room for tolerance.

The term “Accessible Design” typically refers to compliance with Federal accessibility laws and state and local building codes; including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, among others. Accessible Design requirements are based on anthropometric research – or the study of the human body – and are intended to address people with disabilities. Laws and codes that require compliance with Accessible Design requirements include little or no room for tolerance.

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Medellin: A New Approach to Access and Inclusion

Written by Camilo Vasquez, Accessibility Specialist

A view of the comunas in Medellin, Colombia

There are cities around the world with the potential to conjure up negative images the moment you mention the name. My hometown of Medellin, Colombia is certainly one of those cities. It is no secret that Medellin is synonymous with Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug lord who paralyzed Colombia with constant violence and chaos over two decades ago. In 1988, TIME magazine named it the most dangerous city in the world. By 1991, it became the murder capital of the world. Yet in 2013, Medellin was announced the “Innovative City of the Year” by USA’s Urban Land Institute. How did Medellin go from a haven of narco-terrorism to becoming a hub of innovation? This transformation has been attributed to the use of urban infrastructure as a tool for inclusion, which was very apparent during my recent trip.

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