Ed. note: This case study is a selection from the
competition, in which an esteemed jury
identified submissions that demonstrate the value of design in a clear,
compelling and accessible way. It serves as an example of how to explain design
thinking to clients, students, peers and the public in general, based on
Most injured U.S. servicemen and servicewomen returning from war must adapt to a
home, even if it doesn’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
guidelines. These soldiers find workarounds to cope with their
surroundings based on individual capabilities and preferences. Clark
Realty Capital believed there had to be a better solution. The
Virginia-based real estate firm, which partnered with the U.S. Department
of Defense on more than $4.7 billion of privatized housing for service members, collaborated with our design firm on a new model for building
accessible homes on military installations.
Truly designing for accessibility necessitates a deep level of
understanding and inspiration. Using a human-centered design approach, the team began by conducting
contextual inquiries with 10 civilians and 20 soldiers who had suffered a
range of injuries. These injuries included post–traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injuries, single and
multiple extremity amputations, third-degree burns, and vision loss and
impairment. The designers also immersed themselves in a variety of
relevant and tangential environments, and met with nearly two dozen
experts to dive deeper into the spaces of rehabilitation, military
family life and residential development and construction.
Halfway through the engagement, the design team visualized sacrificial
concepts as provocations to present to a group of wounded warriors and
their respective family members. The participants of the workshop were
encouraged to role-play, criticize, tear down and build upon the shared
concepts in order to confirm or challenge hypotheses and intuitions,
ultimately strengthening the ideas early enough in the process, where
anything still goes.
One of the early stories from the field that inspired the design team
came from a paraplegic civilian. This civilian was wheelchair-bound, and
despite opportunities to drive a large van that could accommodate easy
ingress and egress as well as loading and transportation of his chair,
he insisted on driving a red Mustang. The painstaking process of getting
in and out of his Mustang was a small accommodation of discomfort to
pay for an uncompromised, emotionally-fulfilling driving experience that was reflective of how his life used to be. Stories like this one are one
reason why, in the final implementation of the homes, Michael Graves & Associates ensured that
wheelchairs would be able to make an uncompromised full turn anywhere
in the house, enabling full interaction for all potential
inhabitants—and the luxury of wide corridors for ambulatory individuals.
The notion of going beyond minimum accessibility requirements and
envisioning an aspirational home for all—regardless of capabilities or
challenges in life—was the team’s intrinsic goal.
The challenge was to visualize and design the ideal home for soldiers
injured in the field. The effort included floor plans and amenities that
would not only meet or exceed ADA standards, but would also be versatile
enough to accommodate varied physical and psychological needs. Clark
commissioned Michael Graves & Associates to develop architectural
plans for two concept homes that needed to support family dynamics and
rituals and needed to be able to evolve over time and with technology.
The design team took an in-depth look at accessibility issues,
interviewing and observing 10 civilians and 20 injured soldiers with
different needs, meeting with their loved ones and getting feedback
from nearly two dozen experts. The team asked questions that shed light
on how active duty service members resume civilian life after
debilitating injuries; what could make their experience more dignified
and healthy; and what might reconnect them with family, close friends
and the world. Ultimately, we went well beyond understanding soldiers’
physical limitations, considering their cognitive and emotional
challenges and needs as well.
Listening to everyone’s stories, the team coalesced around the idea that
there isn’t one collective experience, but rather seven dualities or
contrasts that define the complex needs of disabled soldiers and their
families. These dualities gave the design team direction and inspiration
for developing an adaptable home for specific physical, mental and
emotional needs that also fit into the context of everyday life. The dualities are:
National Public Radio (NPR) and other major media outlets highlighted
the homes when Clark Realty Capital unveiled them on November 30, 2011, in
Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research is
funding a five-year longitudinal study of the two prototype homes by the
University of Buffalo’s Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental
Access. The intent is for these homes to act as living laboratories in
order to generate feedback and answers to questions such as: How
customizable should each unique space within a home be? How might
kitchens and social spaces be leveraged by different members of a
wounded warrior household? Over time, Clark hopes to gain insights that
will inform future development efforts. The idea is to scale
appropriately—leveraging advances in rehabilitative technologies,
construction and the findings of the families actually living in these
homes—in a truly evolving, agile development process.
Clark has also proactively socialized their learnings and efforts around
designing for accessibility. This transparency has opened doors to
experts, and to engagement from all who desire to be a part of the larger
mission of helping people lead happier lives.
Visit the website: www.woundedwarriorhome.org
Learn more about the jury’s perspective on the competition and their
rationale behind the selections.
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