The Architecture of Disability

Buildings, Cities, and Landscapes beyond Access

2022
Author:

David Gissen

A radical critique of architecture that places disability at the heart of the built environment

By recontextualizing the history of architecture through the discourse of disability, this book presents a unique challenge to current modes of architectural practice, theory, and education. Envisioning an architectural design that fully integrates disabled persons into its production, it advocates for looking beyond traditional notions of accessibility and shows how certain incapacities can help to positively reimagine the roots of architecture.

This book is an urgent and exhilarating manifesto that calls for nothing less than a complete rethinking of architecture. Rather than insisting that architectural forms need to be adjusted to accommodate a greater diversity of impairments, it uses diversities of physical, mental, social, and collective capacities to unlock new ways to conceive of architecture, model it, design it, describe it, represent it, theorize it, and write histories about it. The fictional singular, athletic, male, young, healthy, undamaged, untraumatized, white body at the center of normative architectural discourse finally gives way to a permanently complex philosophical and political agency reshaping the way buildings are thought.

Beatriz Colomina, author of X-Ray Architecture

Disability critiques of architecture usually emphasize the need for modification and increased access, but The Architecture of Disability calls for a radical reorientation of this perspective by situating experiences of impairment as a new foundation for the built environment. With its provocative proposal for “the construction of disability,” this book fundamentally reconsiders how we conceive of and experience disability in our world.

Stressing the connection between architectural form and the capacities of the human body, David Gissen demonstrates how disability haunts the history and practice of architecture. Examining various historic sites, landscape designs, and urban spaces, he deconstructs the prevailing functionalist approach to accommodating disabled people in architecture and instead asserts that physical capacity is essential to the conception of all designed space.

By recontextualizing the history of architecture through the discourse of disability, The Architecture of Disability presents a unique challenge to current modes of architectural practice, theory, and education. Envisioning an architectural design that fully integrates disabled persons into its production, it advocates for looking beyond traditional notions of accessibility and shows how certain incapacities can offer us the means to positively reimagine the roots of architecture.

Cover alt text: Black title text on all-white background. At center, three simply drawn staircases in orange, yellow, and green, from different perspectives.

A disabled designer and historian of architecture, David Gissen is professor of architecture and urban history at Parsons School of Design at the New School.

This book is an urgent and exhilarating manifesto that calls for nothing less than a complete rethinking of architecture. Rather than insisting that architectural forms need to be adjusted to accommodate a greater diversity of impairments, it uses diversities of physical, mental, social, and collective capacities to unlock new ways to conceive of architecture, model it, design it, describe it, represent it, theorize it, and write histories about it. The fictional singular, athletic, male, young, healthy, undamaged, untraumatized, white body at the center of normative architectural discourse finally gives way to a permanently complex philosophical and political agency reshaping the way buildings are thought.

Beatriz Colomina, author of X-Ray Architecture

The Architecture of Disability takes a historically rich, theoretically informed route beyond disability access as a functional problem in architecture (and one often poorly resolved). Reading familiar sites such as the Parthenon alongside lesser-known landscapes of walking, rolling, and embodied presence, David Gissen centers disabled perspectives—including his own—to reveal new theoretical avenues to and poetic journeys through the built world.

Bess Williamson, author of Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design