Andrew Walker Architect
Andrew Walker is an architect, consultant, and lecturer. His early architectural training and work was in conservation of historic buildings. Since he acquired his disability in 1982, he has become an outspoken critic of bad and disabling design. His personal experience of disability combined with his professional experience make him a strong and effective advocate for inclusive design. He is the interim access officer of the City of London Access Office, where he reviews hundreds of plans, contributes to access policy and planning, and tries to keep some waking hours for his personal life.
"We are all mentors, one to another. We need to be strong together and weak together and stop nondisabled people discriminating against us in all the ways that they do. We must do this together and learn from each other. There is no other way."
- Andrew Walker
One of his early design projects was the Mike Heaffey Sports and Rehabilitation Centre for the London Spinal Unit, where he had once been a patient. Opened by Princess Diana, it was designated a Centre of Excellence by the Sports Council of England. Andrew's design utilized the hilly landscape and made it possible to wheel from a patient's room to the gymnasium, garden, or bar. People could exercise outside, just lie on the grass, "do naughty things like get soaking wet in the rain," or wheel onto a balcony and observe the activities in the sports hall below.
The weight training room that Andrew was told was unnecessary has since been tripled in size by popular demand. In the Occupational Therapy Department, Andrew provided a patient's room for anyone who unexpectedly needs to change clothes or lie down to catheterize. This made it possible for a person to return to exercise or socialize rather than be forced to head back to the ward with a feeling of shame. Now called the National Training Center, the facility has been extended by Foster Associates to include a dance studio, a swimming pool, a computer training center, and a cafe.
Andrew founded and directed the Environmental Access Program at the Architectural Association (AA) in London, where he was head of technical studies from 1983 to 1995. He was also chair of the United Kingdom Institute for Inclusive Design (UKIID), which was originally named the British Institute for Design and Disability, the national affiliate of the European Institute for Design and Disability. Through Andrew's democratic reforms, a new board was elected with half the membership consisting of disabled people, and the organization changed its name, signaling that the disabling nature of much design was the problem, not disability itself.
Andrew's consultancy work includes access appraisals required by the rigorous guidelines of the Arts Council of England, which gives grants to arts projects from the National Lottery. All spaces have to be accessible to anyone-management, patrons, players, or providers. Public consultation is part of the review process at various stages, requiring that architects engage with disabled people. Projects on which Andrew has consulted include the British Film Institute's Imax Cinema, the European Theater of Disabled People, the Black People's Theater at Oval House, and the London School of Economics-all in London; the Arnolfi Gallery, Bristol; the Mick Jagger Music Center, Kent; and the Ilfracombe Pavilion, Devon, where the inventive architects made it possible to wheel up the outside of the building onto a grass roof to reach the cliff tops.
Andrew has been an expert witness over a wide range of housing claims made by wheelchair users as a result of accidents, and was an advisor to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Lifetime Homes initiative. He has also presented his progressive perspective of disability through a long list of published articles, radio and TV programs, and conferences.
Before he became a wheelchair user in 1982, Andrew specialized in building conservation, with membership in various historical societies in the United Kingdom. He received the 1976 Victoria Society in America Scholarship donated by Forbes Magazine, and he toured many state historic preservation offices across the United States. He wrote his thesis, "Preservation Techniques in the United States" at the AA in London.
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Reflecting on obstacles in his work since he became disabled, Andrew said, "I was able to leave the London Spinal Unit in 1982 on a Friday and move temporarily into the Kenilworth Hotel, Great Russell Street, near my School of Architecture in Bedford Square, Bloomsbury. I was then able to start work the following Monday morning, wheeling the short distance. No lazing and no time for morbid introspection. I had no lavatory in the hotel I could use, and needed to ask to be helped down kerbs and into the building every day." After a year he was made head of technical studies at the AA. "I was then given a sink so I did not need to take my urine home in a bottle."
The change in leadership at the AA supported Andrew's creation of a Graduate Diploma Course in Environmental Access, a multi-professional program that integrated nondisabled and disabled people as students and educators. This required the school to make an accessible entry, to add a unisex lavatory, to put induction loops in lecture halls, and to create parking spaces for disabled drivers. In order to gain broad-based support, Andrew invited notable disabled people from across the political spectrum to several evening lecture series. "This was the only way I could effect improvements, and for the first time-after ten years-I was able to use a lavatory and get in and out of the building on my own."
Andrew resigned from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in protest in 1995 over its refusal to endorse the extension of building regulations to ensure that all new housing be accessible. This battle had been going on in the professions and among house builders for twenty years. The new Labour Government in 1997 soon fulfilled its pledge to change the regulations, making England, along with Norway, unique within Europe in insisting that all new housing have some degree of access. Since then, Andrew has joined the Association of Consultant Architects and writes the access column in its journal.
"I earn less than most professional people, since much of my work is unpaid. I do it because at present, it is the only way to push back the boundaries of perception." Speaking about mentoring and networking, Andrew said, "We are all mentors, one to another. But I remain wary of professional people doing things for disabled people. I think connecting with each other is critical. We need to be strong together and weak together and stop nondisabled people discriminating against us in all the ways that they do. We must do this together and learn from each other. There is no other way."
Andrew lives in a converted laundry building in central London, where he has installed a hand operated lift to all four floors. He recently bought and renovated, including the installation of a four-story elevator, a converted High Street shop in a small fishing town on the English Channel. He has installed a five-person elevator that goes to all four floors-each with its own spectacular view. The town is very old, with castles and a pier. It is a great place to exercise, with miles of level shore-front looking across to France. He has done this work now in order to remain as independent as possible for as long as possible. He refuses to live in a remote single-story house, preferring to be among the people, shops, noise, and activity of London and Kent.
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