AIA, CSI, CCS
Senior Architectural Specifier
Harold Kiewel is a registered architect and certified construction specifier (CCS) with over twenty-five years' experience in accessible design and a long record of service to both the design and disability communities. In 1976 he co-edited Accessible Architecture, the illustrated edition of Minnesota's building code requirements for accessibility, and he has continued to write, lecture, and publish articles on accessible design ever since. In 1998 he received the American Institute of Architects (AIA)-Minnesota Young Architect's Citation for his many years of AIA and community work at the national, state, and local levels.
"It was as if I heard a bell ringing. I thought about my drawing board and knew thatís where I wanted to be."
- Harold Kiewel
Since 1998, he was worked with Ellerbe Becket, an international firm based in Minneapolis, as a senior architectural specifier, spending much of his time writing project manuals for health care facilities. Harold continues his advocacy to the architectural community through his presentations and volunteer work, and also by educating the Ellerbe Beckett staff about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In 1993, before he joined Ellerbe Becket, Harold founded his own company, Accessible Building Consultants, to provide independent accessibility consulting. His focus was the practice of architecture as an instrument of change in society, and his goal was to help clients and architects understand the real meaning of the ADA. Harold's solid personal and professional grounding in accessibility issues, combined with his architectural training, made him a valuable resource in the years following the passage of the ADA. He led seminars at regional and national meetings of the AIA, the Construction Specifier's Institute, and the International Facilities Managers Association and served on numerous committees and task forces of architectural and disability organizations. During that time, Harold was also affiliated with Universal Designers and Consultants, a Maryland-based national consulting firm specializing in ADA compliance.
Harold was born in South Dakota, but following his bout with polio, his family moved to Minneapolis to be near the Shriner's Children's Hospital. There, Harold received treatment for post-polio paralysis and learned to walk using leg braces and crutches. His father was a farmer and a carpenter; Harold worked with him on the farm and was active in 4-H. One early influence in Harold's choice of career was seeing the blueprints for construction projects on which his father worked.
A high school civics and social studies teacher who was an architect encouraged Harold's initial interest in a career in design. Today, Harold reflects somewhat wryly on the fact that this man taught high school for a living. "I might have missed a clue there about the vicissitudes of this profession."
Harold was mainstreamed in public school and graduated sixth out of one hundred students in his class. Although he felt encouraged to follow his interests, he also got the message that a "more passive career" would suit him best. Oddly, architecture was among the careers considered more passive. "I guess my counselors didn't know much about site visits or site work."
The state vocational rehabilitation program provided tuition and housing for Harold's first undergraduate degree, which he received in 1973 from the University of Minnesota. Harold studied architecture initially, but towards the end of his sophomore year he was strongly dissuaded from continuing on this path. A design studio professor suggested that if he changed his major he'd do all right, but if he continued with architecture, he would flunk out. Harold has always suspected that this incident reflected the professor's strong negative feelings about disability in general and had little to do with him or his design skills. Unfortunately, as a result, Harold dropped architecture and explored several other majors before settling on one just for the purpose of graduating.
Immediately after graduation, he worked in retail. The happiest parts of these years were meeting Patricia, falling in love, and getting married. But he felt unfulfilled in his work. "It was as if I heard a bell ringing. I thought about my drawing board and knew that's where I wanted to be." Vocational Rehabilitation wouldn't fund a graduate degree, but they would fund vocational training. So Harold enrolled at the Minnesota Drafting School to get the skills he needed for an entry-level architectural position.
Harold's first job in his career of choice was with the City of Minneapolis as an access consultant, in 1975. He helped educate building owners about the state's new accessibility code and then moved on to the State Council on Disabilities, where he provided the same sorts of education on a statewide basis. Out of this work came the book Accessible Architecture, co-authored with John Salmen in 1976. Toward the end of the decade, Harold transferred to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, where he gave technical assistance to a program that offered funding and design assistance to families with special needs.
Still determined to be an architect, Harold went back to the University of Minnesota, taking courses at night part-time until he earned his Bachelor of Environmental Design. Then, in 1982, with the support of his wife and family, he decided to leave his state job to pursue a Master of Architecture degree at the university. His thesis, User Sensitivity in Architecture, offers a methodology for understanding accessibility as a qualitative design issue, rather than as a quantitative building code issue.
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While he was studying at Minnesota, some minor accommodations were made for him, mostly to do with furniture. He had a difficult time carrying mounted drawings and models to class from his home studio, but he never thought to ask for a studio, jury, or class to be moved to an accessible first-floor location. He just allocated extra time for travel. The larger difficulties, however, tended to be attitudinal rather than physical. On the one hand, it was assumed, that Harold was the expert on accessibility in design, while at the same time he was regularly challenged for "raising the flag too high" in pointing out access issues while discussing other students' work in studio.
Harold's first job as an intern architect was with Toltz King Duvall Anderson (TKDA) and Associates. He started there in 1986 and worked his way up to staff architect. At TKDA he helped prepare construction drawings and specifications for scores of public and commercial projects. However, the attitudinal barriers and disability stereotypes persisted. In his early job assignments and training at TKDA, there was a reluctance to let him visit job sites. When he asked one manager if he could see more in the field he was told, "Construction drawings will teach you all you need to know."
Harold feels there is no sense of community among designers with disabilities. "Other minorities have a sense of community. People with disabilities have been taught to separate their identity from their disability. Their community is their family and peers; if they make it, it's with non-disabled peers. It's a dilemma that means we don't have disabled peers as mentors. It can be pretty lonely." Active with the AIA Diversity Committee, he participated in all five of their annual meetings and was usually the only person with a visible disability in the diverse group that included cultural minorities as well as women and gay and lesbian AIA members.
His ethic of service is still uppermost in his mind. He says, "I am still becoming an architect, and am sure that my best work is in front of me. I've always held that the practice of architecture is a sacred public trust. This belief holds me to a life of service; service to my clients, service to my heritage, and service to our children. Though the winds of time can shift my focus, serve I must. In time, I trust that both I and my community will find this service fulfilling and uplifting."
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