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September 5, 2007
by Rick Bell FAIA Executive Director AIA New York
Access Living Headquarters

Access Living’s new headquarters in Chicago.


In describing the building he designed in Chicago for Access Living, a national accessibility rights public interest group, architect John H. Catlin, FAIA, of LCM Architects noted: “Accessible design is good for everyone, not just the people who use Access Living’s building everyday.” The occasion of his remarks was the presentation of the 2007 Barrier-Free America Design Award of the Paralyzed Veterans of America to Catlin and his client, Marca Bristo, President and CEO of Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago. Catlin continued: “Through this new building, and through the Barrier-Free America Award, we will deliver the message that accessibility benefits everyone from wheelchair users, to parents with strollers, to shoppers returning home with groceries.” Bristo spoke of how the LEED Silver headquarters will enable Access Living “to build our services and activities as we continue working to create an inclusive, integrated, and independent disability community.”

Access Living’s Headquarters, described as “a model of Universal and Green Design,” is located at 115 West Chicago Avenue. Less than a mile north of AIA Chicago’s new space at 35 East Wacker Drive, it was the setting for a celebration in August attended by previous Barrier-Free America Award winners including Edward K. Uhlir, FAIA, responsible for the creation of Chicago’s Millennium Park. During a tour, Access Living staff members pointed out some of the Universal Design features that make the building distinct. Those that especially impressed this visitor included:

· Easily adjustable desk counter heights to accommodate users with varying seating needs, including different wheelchair heights
· Oversized elevators with doors both front and back on all floors to enhance wheelchair maneuverability in crowded cabs
· Hallway carpeting with darker-colored borders to help those with visual impairment
· Computer screens linked to telephone and video cameras to enable telephonic signing
· Areas of rescue assistance on each floor also usable as lounge space

Access Living is a cross-disability organization governed and staffed by a majority of people with disabilities. Through its programs, services, and now its Chicago headquarters, it fosters dignity and self-esteem of people with disabilities and enhances their options so they may choose and maintain individualized and satisfying lifestyles. The 115 West Chicago Avenue building exemplifies the seven principles of Universal Design developed in 1997 by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University: Equitable Use, Flexibility in Use, Simple and Intuitive, Perceptible Information, Tolerance for Errors, Low Physical Effort, and Space for Approach & Use. The implementation of these principles makes for good design accessible to all.

Other attendees at the award ceremony included AIA Chicago’s Executive Vice President, Zurich Esposito, and AIA Milwaukee President-elect Karen Plunkett, AIA. The Paralyzed Veterans of America, represented by National Vice President Gregory A. Joyce, National Director Gary E. McDermott, and Director of Architecture Carol Peredo Lopez, AIA, also has a design project underway in Milwaukee.


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