Consider how a person with special needs might experience an office building.
Suppose this person needs a wheelchair to move but the main entrance only has a revolving door, which doesn’t easily accommodate wheelchairs – getting inside will be a challenge. Suppose he or she has limited vision, but the horizontal and vertical sections of stair steps are entirely the same color – ascending and descending will likely be difficult. Or suppose the person doesn’t speak the local language, and the building signage is all in that language – navigating will take extra effort.
Those are not good experiences to have.
Buildings and surrounding public spaces should be designed and built to enable all people to thrive, including those with disabilities and injuries; the elderly; parents with small children; and people not speaking the local language. While regulations in many countries do much to ensure access for people with a variety of needs, in Poland those guidelines lack important details and are inconsistent.
Skanska wants to help set a higher standard, going beyond regulations to create buildings for everyone through holistic, modern design solutions.
"An enormous social responsibility"
This issue brought together Skanska, with our values that support personal health and well-being, with the Integration Foundation, which for 20 years has been a leading voice for improving the accessibility of buildings in Poland.
A partnership was formed that's the first of its kind in Poland. Under it, all commercial properties that Skanska develops in Poland are intended to achieve the Building without Barriers certificate, which the Foundation established to mark facilities with high levels of architectural accessibility. We are further collaborating with the Foundation to help change society's mindset in Poland about accessible buildings.
"We welcome this as an enormous social responsibility," says Arkadiusz Rudzki, Managing Director of Skanska's Commercial Development unit in Poland. "We believe this will serve as an inspiration for the whole market."
Even more, we are also collaborating with the Integration Foundation with our Residential Development projects in Poland. In most of those buildings, the common areas and soon up to half of the apartments will be adjusted for people with special needs.
Simple, small actions
The best way to make buildings accessible is from the very beginning. At the very early stages of design, when adjustments are easier and less costly to make, consider the range of people who might use a building and its immediate surroundings.
Then produce a building that provides for all of them, typically by providing a facility that offers flexibility, simplicity, equality, ease of use and more, all packaged in smart, holistic ways. For example, provide a reception desk in the lobby works for people in wheelchairs too. This approach is part of what's called universal design.
Supporting diverse workforces
Already, Skanska has two commercial buildings in Poland certified to the Building without Barriers standard – Atrium 2 and Maraton – and 20 others in the process of being audited.
Office tenants value this certification, as it supports the diverse workforces they need to be successful. So we are extending our accessibility focus to our Commercial Development projects throughout Central Europe. There, the Building without Barriers certificate will be a standard feature with our commercial developments, much like the LEED eco-label and now certifications to the WELL Building Standard for healthy buildings.
Also in Poland, our Holm House project will be the first residential building applying for Building without Barriers certificate.
"We want people with special needs to be fully independent – in movement and in communication – in our buildings," says Joanna Ejsmont, a Skanska Sustainability Coordinator. "This is the way we see accessibility."
Empowering a movement
In driving accessibility, we realized that architects and architecture students in Poland would benefit from a better understanding of how to design buildings that accommodate all users.
So Skanska and the Integration Foundation are producing a handbook to help speed the understanding of universal, accessible design. This handbook will be graphically based to help it be easily understand, and publicly available when published at the end of 2017.
Over time, we hope the handbook will help entire cities to become more accessible.
"This is the start of a movement with a big social impact," Joanna says.