Designing a universally accessible world

Start-up company Studio HB, run by architect and consultant Hiten Bawa, is looking to make the world more accessible with his designs

Studio HB is an architectural and Universal Access (UA) consultancy firm. Although the company only launched in September 2016, Hiten Bawa is already busy on numerous projects, including a new residence, an urban design and landscaping project in Rustenburg and a UA project for a Cape Town-based NGO.

“I design fully accessible houses for wheelchair users, deaf persons or blind persons. When it comes to modifications or alterations to an existing house, I advise on bathroom layouts, bedrooms and kitchens. I design accessible features that will fit into the existing design of the house,” Bawa says.

He has a Masters of Architecture (Professional) from the University of Cape Town, helped draw up the Universal Design standards and guidelines for universities, and assisted in designing the new university in Mpumalanga and Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley along with his former employer Ludwig Hansen Architects and Urban Designers.

Bawa started his own firm after various people approached him about doing work outside of universities. “I thought, why limit myself to one particular building type? I must go out on my own and make my services available to other architects, developers and contractors,” he explains.

For him, UA is very important. “We have diverse types of people in our society – people with different abilities and disabilities. It makes sense to have a building that is designed to accommodate as many people as possible,” he comments.

The focus in design tends to be on wheelchair accessibility, but this overlooks people with other disabilities. One design element that is often ignored is proper acoustics to assist people with hearing impairments.

“Acoustics is very important to deaf people, because we hear echoes and reverberations that mess up our hearing aids. We need to have good acoustics to make communication easier,” he says. He also mentions the need for appropriate lighting, so that people’s faces are clearly visible for lip-reading.

Another vital feature that he supports is a strobe light to accompany the fire-alarm system. “If you’re unable to hear the fire-alarm system, you need to have flashing lights to warn you that there is a fire – and to evacuate the building as quickly and safely as possible,” he explains.

Bawa sees his own hearing impairment as an advantage over his colleagues. “I have insight into the challenges of having a disability. I’m very sensitive to how people use a space,” he says. His background as a visual artist also helps him construct and design a beautiful environment.

“I am on a mission to transform the built environment to become more inclusive and accessible to a wide spectrum of people including people with disabilities,” Bawa says.

For more information contact Hiten Bawa on (+27) 83 305 0367 (by SMS or WhatsApp only), email at hello@hitenbawa.co.za or visit Studio HB’s website at www.hitenbawa.co.za.

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