Research on urban planning and architecture for disabled persons in Iran - Establishing design criteria

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Report of the CIB Expert Seminar on
Building Non-Handicapping Environments, Budapest 1991

Gisoo Ghaem, Building and Housing Research Center, Teheran, Iran


Seminar Contents

The paper is the result of a research project at the Building and Housing Research Center of Iran with contributions from Dr. Mohsen Habibi and Dr. Fatemeh Mirfatah, professors at Tehran Universities. I thank Mrs. Forouz Rooshanbin, the head of the information department of BHRC, for translating the paper to English.

According to the statistics of the World Health Organization 10 per cent of the total world population are physically disabled. In Iran, the 8-year war between Iran and Iraq increased the number of persons with disabilities to a considerable extent.

Architectural and urban barriers prevent persons with disabilities to participate in social activities. In spite of so much capability and potential, these people have many difficulties due to the mentioned problems, while society too is deprived of their abilities and talents.

The research project on "Designing the public and private spaces for the disabled, adaptation of the present situation and provision of the optimized conditions" was started in 1987 at the Building and Housing Research Center (BHRC). It consists of four main stages:

  • Designing urban spaces for disabled persons,
  • Designing public buildings for disabled persons,
  • Designing educational buildings for disabled children,
  • Designing residential buildings for disabled persons.

The project attempts to establish design criteria which take into account the movement abilities of persons with disabilities. When designing public and private spaces access measurements and reach dimensions must be considered. Of the persons using technical aids (crutches, canes, wheelchairs, etc.), wheelchair users often face the greatest barriers. Using the anthropometric data of wheelchair users as the basis for measurements in designing urban spaces, including public and private buildings, will also eliminate the difficulties of other disabled persons.

Planning urban spaces

In this study, a person using a wheelchair moved along the sidewalks of the city while existing barriers and circumstances which hindered the wheelchair user's movement were identified. Renovation and rehabilitation solutions could be created through analyzing the existing problems. The general objective is to adapt existing urban elements (e.g. alleys, sidewalks, pedestrian bridges and crosswalks) for ease of movement. These adaptations will provide design criteria for future planning of urban elements. Parking and public telephones and the floor coverings of the passages were studied and appropriate design criteria were established.

Designing public buildings

It is true that many of these buildings are not accessible for the old, the very young and persons with disabilities. Thus, this part of our community is deprived of access to these buildings due to poor design and performance.

Reconstruction projects after the 8-year war demonstrate that not only should new construction be built accessibly, but that existing buildings be renovated with accessibility for persons with disabilities in mind. Negligence of the design criteria can result in inaccessibility, isolating many groups of people and holding them back from participation in social and economic activities. Persons who became disabled due to war actions are especially considered here because society feels indebted to them.

Design criteria of public buildings from England and Canada were studied. Key elements in those countries' accessible design solutions were as follows: entrances, corridors, openings, stairs, ramps, elevators, toilets, signs and drinking fountains.

Public buildings are divided into the following categories: health-centers, commercial buildings, administrative complexes, service complexes, cultural centers, recreational buildings, transportation buildings, and industrial buildings.

Designing educational buildings

Designing educational buildings was the third stage of the project. Because of the difference between children's and adult's anthropometric data, they were studied independently from public buildings. Statistics about the standing height of 300 children, studying in the rehabilitation centers of Tehran, was taken. It showed that children with disabilities have a shorter standing height in comparison with non-disabled children. The measurements were used as a basis for designing school buildings.

Of the three views on education of disabled children (segregated from non-disabled children; semi-integrated; and fully-integrated) the latter was the viewpoint adopted in the BHRC research project. To fulfil this objective, barriers in accessibility to schools such as entrances, school yards, openings, floor coverings, corridors, stairs, ramps, furniture inside the class, wall finishings, and sanitary spaces were studied and the design criteria which are suitable for children with disabilities were established.

Designing residential buildings

Research on housing design criteria suitable also for disabled persons was started in June 1990. Though we had access to a large number of American and European publications on housing design, their references were not of great use because of social and cultural differences. Adaptation of housing continues to be the main problem in accessibility.

The main objective of our research was the creation of individual independence of the person with a disability at home so that he or she can live actively with other members of the family. Three categories of existing homes were distinguished:

The first group are houses which had not been adapted for their residents. In this group, other members of the family respond to the disabled persons needs (i.e., carry them), despite the high risk of accidents and health problems for those who do the carrying.

The second group includes different provisions for adaptation of the house but because of lack of knowledge of usable criteria for disabled people, these provisions were not only insufficient to their requirements but, on the contrary, created more barriers.

The third group are houses owned by the family. In this group, different ways for adapting the house have been considered. Moreover, advanced technical possibilities have been used in planning these houses.

In this project, entrances, corridors, doors, windows, ramps, lifts, lavatories, handrails, bathrooms, kitchens, stores, living rooms, bedrooms, yards, balconies and garages were studied. In these elements the difficulties were found and ways of adaptation, as used by the second and third group, were recognized with the required criteria in this field presented.

Living in an institution instead of the family atmosphere can never induce a sense of lively existence in them. Feeling that their life is somehow temporary and dependent on others, may cause depression and isolation. Therefore, as long as the main reason why persons disabled through the war live in institutions are the inaccessible houses of their families, it is strongly recommended to adapt and modify their housing conditions.

Simple methods of adapting houses for a disabled person are usually not expensive and do not always require special tools; knowing different methods is the most important factor. Using mass media to disseminate information on the simplest and the cheapest methods of adaptation for disabled persons will help those who want to adapt their living environment but have no knowledge about the ways of doing it.

Design criteria which include persons with disabilities

The design criteria resulting from our research were presented to various organizations for feedback and input in October 1988. In incorporating these viewpoints BHRC started a commission consisting of interested individuals, experts and the professors of the universities. This commission started its work in February 1989. The two publications, "Urban space and the disabled" and "Public buildings and the disabled" were the basis for providing the draft of design criteria. The draft was approved by the Iranian High Council of Urban Development and Architecture on May 1989 as the final design criteria in Iran. These are:
  • Optimal design criteria for urban space including sidewalks, pedestrian overpasses, crosswalks, parking and urban facilities,
  • Adaptation of sidewalks, pedestrian overpasses, crosswalks, and parking,
  • General requirements of the design criteria for public buildings including entrances, corridors, openings, stairs, ramps, elevators, toilets, and signposting,
  • Recommended criteria for adaptation of urban space for disabled persons.

The criteria described in section 1: "Optimal design criteria for the urban space", are compulsory in all the present and future urban development and building housing projects, governmental or non-governmental, since June 1989. All authorities responsible for preparation, investigation and approval of urban plans, executions of satellite towns and housing projects are bound to observe these criteria in all stages of their work.

In order to minimize and improve the present urban barriers it is necessary to carry out all modifications described in section 2: "Adaptation of sidewalks". This is to be done before preparation or renewal of urban development projects in order to adapt the present situation to the appropriate standards.

Observation of regulations described in section 3: "General requirements of the design criteria for public buildings" is obligatory for designers and architects active in urban development plans. The executing authorities responsible for issuing building and inspection licences are bound to follow these regulations accurately and appropriately.

All public buildings are subject to these criteria, specifically government buildings must be gradually adapted according to the requirements of this code. Distinction of the extent of modifications and improvements and the necessary duration for completion of such works is the responsibility of a commission consisting of delegations of the Organization of Social Welfare, the Foundation of War Disabled and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. The latter is obliged to obtain legal guarantee of codes and requirements from the competent organizations.

Application of criteria in section 4: "Recommended criteria for adaptation of urban space of the disabled" is, at present, optional but will become obligatory according to determination of the commission mentioned above and through the obtained legal guarantee.

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development is obligated to review and revise the code requirements and adapt it with new developments and conditions once every five years in cooperation with Organization of Social Welfare and Foundation of the War Disabled and obtain the approval of Iranian High Council for Architecture and Urban Planning.

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