The Vision

Disability is not a 4-letter word.

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Photo of Willem de Kooning’s Studio. Customized easels supported de Kooning’s work with large canvases well into his senior years.

Currently 1 in 7 Canadians (5.3 million people) identify as living with a disability. By 2038, that number will jump to 1 in 5.

16,000 Calgarians acquire a disability annually, with a projected 30% increase in that number over the course of the next 10 years, and 155% increase in 30 years*. (Level Playing Field, 2018). It is clear the disability community touches everyone.

Diversity is key to a healthy community; differences in mind and body are a natural and remarkable part of human diversity. While these differences – physical, sensory, intellectual, or psychological – may cause functional limitations or impairments, these do not necessarily lead to disability.

“Disability is an art. It’s an ingenious way to live.” – Neil Marcus

For certain kinds of bodies and minds, societal structures, political institutions and the built environment can make life meaningful, or conversely, impossible. Disability arises when society (purposefully or inadvertently) fails to take account of and include all people, regardless of their individual differences.

Accountability through conversation.

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1975: Indefinite Arts’ first year of classes.

The Indefinite Arts Centre (IAC) is Canada’s oldest and largest disability arts organization. Founded in 1975, and initially serving a handful of artists, Indefinite Arts recognized the power of the creative voice. For over 40 years, the IAC has celebrated art as a fundamental means of human expression, and championed that all people are entitled to creative communication.

Art has, and will always continue to be a way to say the unsayable; a vehicle to expansive dialogue and growth. Arguably, a lens that can make the conversation around difference and disability an everyday one.

Art is about community building.

“By making something, others know that you’re creative, that you’re alive, and you have something unique and special going on inside – and non-verbal communication is still communication” – David Byrne

Designing for Inclusivity.

The way in which we each engage the world is unique.

Universal Design is the process of embedding choice for all people in the things human beings design” (Centre for Universal Design, North Carolina State University College of Design).

From seniors to strollers, white canes to crutches, delivery carts to service animals, reducing barriers in the built environment ensures that everyone’s independence can be maintained. Yet current building codes and accessibility standards only address a small fraction of difference. Hearing loss, power chairs, hypersensitivity and service animals are just a few impairments that remain unacknowledged in contemporary standards. A truly accessible environment is considers how all people navigate the world through sight, touch, scent, sounds and taste.

Yet we cannot understand the world outside of our own mind and body. Empathy is informed by our own experiences; we as such, cannot comprehensively anticipate how all minds and bodies will experience space.

So how can we account for others in the same way we account for our own selves?

How do you create a place for every body, every mind?

“No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever turned it into a ramp.” – Stella Young

Building a tool for difference.

We account for difference by creating difference. We replace prescriptive engagement and discrete spaces and focus on the spaces in-between. We introduce an architecture that focuses on gradients of sensory, programmatic and spatial conditions, that vary in their intensity across the project.

No one space is exactly like another. Through subtle transformations, an environment of gradients is created both inside and in between buildings. In any given space, visitors are concurrently becoming and unbecoming one condition or quality.

Visitors are free to draw closer to or away from certain moments – empowered to create their own experience based on their own predispositions. Subtle differences are leveraged to offer infinite choice. A space where everyone can find a place to be comfortable, to be creative, and to contribute as they see fit.

There is no one way to engage the space. Each visitor is empowered to define their own experience.