Designing universal access to ocean pools

2 December 2021
Students develop tactile maps for the visually impaired
School of Architecture, Design and Planning postgraduate students met a design brief to provide universal access to Australia's ocean pools, helping them to develop graduate qualities for responding to real-world challenges.

Master of Architecture students were tasked with meeting the studio design brief ‘Universe of Touch’. The brief was to develop universal access to ocean pools, including beach and rockpools, to provide access to a healthy environment for all communities, using the ocean pool at Malabar as a pilot study.

Students were challenged to produce collaborative designs to a real-life brief that focused specifically on access for blind and low vision audiences.

“This topography where land and water meet is part of the Australian beach culture and deeply within our understanding of community,” said Associate Professor Dagmar Reinhardt, who has been revolutionising the postgraduate architecture design studio units of study, in collaboration with Master of Architecture Program Director Paolo Stracchi.

Through the project students developed ways to produce tactile maps representing natural landscapes, and designs that stimulate people to actively engage with the edge of the sea. This also included developing tactile representations for the environment, such as data on marine and wildlife, to stimulate enjoyment.

Students developed strategies for comprehensive touch maps to enable overview and access for blind and low vision audiences, showcasing how new technologies, such as drone flights, can deliver new datasets that allow them a better sense of their location.

The ‘Universe of Touch’ project was developed with input from Nextsense (formerly Royal Institute for Blind and Partially sighted) and Sydney-based architect, artist and designer Nicole Larkin.

The design brief is one of seven briefs offered in the new Master of Architecture structure, that engage with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) called for by the United Nations to address climate change. The ‘Universe of Touch’ studio focuses on the intersection of three SDGs: Good Health and wellbeingReduced Inequalities, and Sustainable Cities and Communities

“Our interactions with objects, surfaces and spaces depend largely on our unique physical characteristics and sensory capabilities,” said Associate Professor Reinhardt. “People with different sets of abilities, such as the blind and partially-sighted, need to decode and choreograph an array of sensory interactions. In this context, inclusive design can contribute to an equal and cohesive society.”

Through the architecture design studio units, students have also been developing important graduate qualities that assist them to develop broader skills and attributes, including inventiveness, cultural competence and an integrated professional, ethical and personal identity.

“Meeting authentic design briefs is one of the ways students are developing highly valued skills in the community and workplace that will better equip them to respond to real-world challenges,” added Associate Professor Reinhardt.

The case study has been presented to Randwick City Council. The scanning, 3D printing, and robotic milling was produced by DMaF Lab.

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