Continuing themes raised in my previous post, I’d like to present another riddle of rationalization and reflect on its meaning and impact.
As part of the planning process for the building project in which I’m involved, I joined my colleagues in various fieldtrips to other institutions. In the course of those travels I saw and heard about many odd cases in which codes of various sorts, complicated by their local interpretation, had a significant role in shaping architectural decisions. The example that I wish to consider could have happened anywhere, so its precise location doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that the buildings in question are located at an American institution of higher education.
The institution built an addition that links two late 19th-century buildings. At the time of construction, local authorities said that only two of the four entrances on one side of the complex had to meet the accessibility standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Since the average distance between the entries is only slightly more than 50 feet, this seemed sensible. Adding two more large ramps would raise costs significantly and, more important, deface the historic buildings. (Although they are historic, they aren’t on the state or federal historic register, an issue I’ll get to in a second.)
A couple of years after the building was opened, though, the local code official, apparently under pressure from higher-ups elsewhere, reversed the earlier decision. Now all four doors either had to be made ADA-compliant or the two non-compliant ones had to be decommissioned as public entries.
The institution, like virtually all American colleges and universities, is committed to the letter and spirit of the ADA. But absent a budget for the addition of two substantial concrete ramps and a willingness to compromise the look of handsome old buildings, the institution removed exterior handles from the doors in question. Continue reading