Architects slammed over inaccessible buildings

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IOL wheelchair AP KZN architects are in hot water for allegedly not doing enough to ensure that their buildings are wheelchair friendly. FILE PHOTO: David Goldman

Durban - Architects in KwaZulu-Natal who are preparing for a major industry conference in Durban next month have come under fire for allegedly not doing enough to ensure the buildings they design - or occupy - are accessible to the physically challenged.

The International Union of Architects (UIA) World Congress is expected to attract approximately 5 000 delegates from around the world. It will be held at the Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre.

But the QuadPara Association of South Africa (Qasa) has pledged to hold a picket outside the venue on the conference’s second day, to get its point of universal access across.

The association is directing much of its dissatisfaction to the KZN Institute for Architecture (KZNIA).

“We were hoping that we were never going to be put in this situation of having to consider a demonstration and public awareness around the antiquated and discriminatory attitude of the institute and a number of architects,” said chief executive, Ari Seirlis.

Qasa had previously engaged with the architectural body in 2008, regarding the accessibility to their building - an issue the institute said has since been resolved.

At the time, Qasa had handed a memorandum to the organisation asking for changes to be made.

“The principle is that architects should not be occupying inaccessible buildings to ply their trade and to manage their institutes, committees, organisations and associations. Architects are the very people who either do or do not create accessible environments,” he said.

“It is not good enough to make the commitment to make sure that the building is made accessible and compliant. We are trying to change the way that architects think about human rights and being responsible advocates of access for all.”

He said that by making the building accessible between now and the conference did not convince the association that the UIA “walked their talk”.

“And let’s all be honest, if that disgrace of a building is not made accessible and compliant before the conference, it will surely not happen afterwards.

“In fact, it comes across as fraud to represent a certain principle and yet occupy an inaccessible environment.”

He added: “To deviate from the issue by stating that hotels have been identified that are suitable, and stating that the ICC (where the) conference is being held is universally accessible, is a pathetic response.”

But KZNIA president, Kevin Bingham, said that the issues raised by Qasa had been addressed.

“It is absolutely imperative that all premises be accessible to everyone. This has to be achieved.”

He said that the organisation took the issue “very seriously” and had met Qasa with regards to the matter earlier this year.

“All that is outstanding on our ramp is a railing, but that has been put on hold because of the recent metalworkers strike.”

Bingham added that the ablution facilities and parking areas had also been upgraded.

“We’re all on the same side.”

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