Farewell to a legend

Joan Seirlis, a well-known South African architect and tireless advocate for universal design, which enables accessibility for everyone, passed away in Hillcrest, KwaZulu-Natal, on November 4, following a long illness.

Joan was one of the founder columnists of Rolling Inspiration (RI), producing original comment and astute insights into accessibility issues for its readers for more than a decade.

Joan was also mother of Ari Seirlis (CEO of QASA and managing editor of RI), twin sister of Lilith Seals and sister of Robin Emslie (former publisher
of RI).

This photo, taken by her daughter, Angela Bax, shows Joan one year ago in Barcelona – she was an inveterate global traveller, seeking out famous buildings and innovative accessibility solutions, many of which she wrote about in this publication. She was also a regular speaker at conferences and seminars on the subject of accessibility and a consultant on numerous projects.

In 1999 Joan opened a practice in her own name under the banner of universal design, which she said “recognises the changes that everyone experiences during a lifetime, taking all people – young, old, tall, short, and persons with various disabilities – into consideration”. From 2001 to 2009 Joan commuted to Britain to attend a number of semesters at the Faculty of Urban and Regional Studies, University of Reading in Berkshire and achieved a postgraduate diploma with a thesis entitled, “Developing Inclusive Environments”.

Joan was posthumously honoured by the KwaZulu-Natal Institute for Architecture, which awarded her their Scroll of Honour in recognition of her service to architecture.

The citation on the Scroll of Honour reads:

“Until recently buildings, bye-laws and regulations catered exclusively for able persons. Resolute in her belief in an inclusive approach, a lone architect has steadfastly fought the battle for a universally accessible constructed environment.

“This scroll of honour is presented to Joan Seirlis by the membership of the KwaZulu-Natal Institute for Architecture with admiration and affection.”

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