Research

  • Architecture’s Problem with Disability
  • GRANTEE
    Wanda Katja Liebermann
    GRANT YEAR
    2021

William Leddy, ”Early Architect's Sketch of Ramp and Atrium of Ed Roberts Campus,” 2001. Ink, graphite, and colored pencil. Courtesy Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

Few recent policy developments have impacted the US architectural profession more than the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, the legal culmination of the disability rights movement. Yet, designing for disabled bodies remains a technical sideline of practice. This book asks two key questions: why do exclusionary designs for non-normative bodies persist, and how can architecture constitute social inclusion for people with disabilities? To address these questions, the book analyzes architectural documents and built form, and utilizes public media, interviews, and direct professional experience. Three areas—design studio, code and policy, and projects that challenge code-compliance—are examined to understand how architects produce knowledge about bodies. The coronavirus pandemic has forced radical reconsideration of relationships between bodies and space, recharging architectural debates about inclusion. This work argues for creative spatial engagement with disability to reimagine concepts like accommodation and interdependence and to reconceptualize relationships between the built environment and human body.

Wanda Katja Liebermann is an architectural and urban historian and assistant professor of architecture at Florida Atlantic University. She is a licensed architect who practiced for many years in the Bay Area. Her research focuses on theories and practices of architecture and urbanism in relationship to disability politics and racial justice, examining how design shapes identity and citizenship. Her writing has appeared in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Future Anterior, the Journal of Architecture, the Journal of Design History, and several edited anthologies. She is currently working on a book manuscript, Architecture’s Problem with Disability (Routledge). Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, a University of California, Berkeley’s Arcus Endowment, and the Arnold J. Brunner Grant. Liebermann received a Doctor of Design from Harvard University and a master’s of architecture and bachelor’s of arts in architecture from University of California, Berkeley.