Linnie C.L. Tse photo

Linnie C.L. Tse

Environmental Designer
Designs for Living
Calgary, Alberta, Canada


When designers complete their professional education, it is always a challenge to find opportunities to do the work that they believe in. Linnie Tse, an environmental designer who recently earned her master's degree from the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, began doing design work while still a student and now has practical experience with real-world projects. She has incorporated her passion for universal design into an award-winning house project developed in cooperation with the Calgary Police Services, has designed an accessible garden at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and has been working as an access design consultant throughout Calgary.

"I hated being marginalized and labeled a person with 'special needs'."
- Linnie Tse

Linnie first heard about universal design from the acting dean when she called to ask which program within the faculty would meet her needs.  I described the idea I wanted to research, and he told me about this concept called universal design that sounded exactly like what I was describing." During the next term, Linnie and a few other students requested that the university offer a weeklong "block" course to be taught by Gail Finkel, a Canadian expert in universal design, during the intersession between semesters.

What Linnie learned about universal design made immediate and complete sense to her. "My needs are different in the same way that everyone's needs are different. I want to help spread the word about universal design because it makes me like everyone else, not separate or special." "I hated being marginalized and labeled a person with 'special needs.'"

Linnie describes her work with the Calgary Police Services (CPS) as "fate." She had heard about an environmental program that the police were doing from the Independent Living Resource Centre in Calgary. She called the CPS to inquire about the program, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). The police regularly receive building plans from the city for review and input on safety, and they certify people to work on these evaluations. Linnie was a perfect candidate for the program, and they were enthusiastic about her interest in universal design. She became certified to assess plans for built environments and to recommend changes for crime prevention and safety.

In 1999, the Crime Prevention Unit asked if she would be interested in working with them to create a house that featured accessibility and safety for their annual Crime Prevention Week. Homes by Avi, an established developer in the area, was a cooperative and enthusiastic partner on the project. "Homes agreed to let me be the primary designer for this project, and the house would be built in accordance with my design. Homes has been building houses in Calgary for over twenty years, and they have a solid reputation for quality construction and innovation."

Linnie modified an existing residential layout to feature concepts of universal design and "Safe Living." The house project, the "Universal Home for Safe Living," was awarded the Alberta Home Builders Association 2000 Award of Excellence in Innovation. The house also received the Mayor's Award for Accessibility 2000. Linnie plans to develop a teaching tool and a website that will display the universal design features of the house.

Another of her recently completed projects is an accessible garden at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. The 11,000-sq.- ft. garden has flat terrain with meandering pathways about 1.5m wide that are edged in bright yellow for people with visual impairments. The plantings have varied colors and textures for sensory enjoyment. There are several seating areas along the paths and one gazebo. At each of the seating areas, plantings offer a variety of scents or sounds. One area has a water fountain, birdbaths, and berry bushes attractive to birds. Aspens near another seating area rustle in the wind. Along a lane is an herb garden in raised planters. Flowers offer different scents and colors -from spring to fall. The garden has no grass except along the perimeter; all the other areas will be filled with flowers and scented trees. There will be a directory of the garden along with braille and raised letter signage to identify the plantings.

Photograph of a garden.
The colors, textures, and scents in this garden designed by Linnie at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind provide sensory enjoyment for all users.

Description of Photograph:
In the foreground of this photo there is a cement pathway with a slight incline running through the garden from right to left. There is another pathway that also runs right-to-left a little further back in the photo. Just beyond the second pathway is a large rectangular patch of the garden where there are a number of plants and bushes. There are two tables with benches at the right end of this section of the garden. The path continues all the way around the rectangular section to the opposite side where there is a gazebo and a park bench. Several trees are located in the garden further back in the photo, behind the bench and gazebo.

Linnie has now worked as an access consultant with a variety of groups and agencies in the community. She volunteered much of her initial work to gain experience and credibility. She has worked with the University of Calgary (Campus Accessibility), City of Calgary Parks and Recreation, Transportation and Planning Business Units, and the Canadian Paraplegic Association. She has also been the Chair of the Access Design Committee of the Advisory Committee on Accessibility for the City of Calgary.

Linnie uses a wheelchair as a result of two strokes and a viral infection that she experienced in 1985, when she was twenty-five years old. She earned two previous degrees at the University of Calgary-a B. A. in sociology with a minor in communication and a B. S. in community rehabilitation. The latter degree allows her to perform assessment, implementation, and facilitation of programs and services in the community for people with disabilities. Before she decided to go for her Masters in Environmental Design, Linnie had begun working on access issues in the Calgary community, but realized that she needed to have a solid grounding in design and structure to be truly effective.

Access issues troubled Linnie's education in the studio environment, especially at first. The desks, tables, and tilt tables were hard for her to manage, and workshop safety was also problematic. "I was quite comfortable having shop supervisors help me with my projects that involved working with jigsaws or welding. Also, my fellow students would help me if they had the time and knowledge on machine use." As equipment is modernized, safety and access are built in. "One machine in particular is really cool, it's totally computerized! As long as I have the schematics on disk or CD, I can download the information and cut out everything I want for a good-sized model within 1/16mm of accuracy: window frames, doorways, rounded corners, even the holes for the doorknob." Linnie found the university helpful in meeting her needs. They provided her with a modified desk and an adjustable height desk for her computer. Library staff assisted with collecting materials and, if needed, provide braille, books on tape, CD ROM services, or material in whatever format students require. The campus buildings were all physically accessible to her.

As she worked toward finishing her degree, Linnie lived at home with her parents and two sisters, but now she wants to design and move into a place of her own. She enjoys movies and goes as often as time and money will allow. Linnie is also active in her church and teaches nine- to twelve-year-old girls in Sunday school.

[ Top of Page ]

<< Previous Chapter | Next Chapter >>

[ Table of Contents ]