Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability

Rate this book
“All too often,” wrote disabled architect Ronald Mace, “designers don’t take the needs of disabled and elderly people into account.” Building Access investigates twentieth-century strategies for designing the world with disability in mind. Commonly understood in terms of curb cuts, automatic doors, Braille signs, and flexible kitchens, Universal Design purported to create a built environment for everyone, not only the average citizen. But who counts as “everyone,” Aimi Hamraie asks, and how can designers know? Blending technoscience studies and design history with critical disability, race, and feminist theories, Building Access interrogates the historical, cultural, and theoretical contexts for these questions, offering a groundbreaking critical history of Universal Design. 

Hamraie reveals that the twentieth-century shift from “design for the average” to “design for all” took place through liberal political, economic, and scientific structures concerned with defining the disabled user and designing in its name. Tracing the co-evolution of accessible design for disabled veterans, a radical disability maker movement, disability rights law, and strategies for diversifying the architecture profession, Hamraie shows that Universal Design was not just an approach to creating new products or spaces, but also a sustained, understated activist movement challenging dominant understandings of disability in architecture, medicine, and society.

Illustrated with a wealth of rare archival materials, Building Access brings together scientific, social, and political histories in what is not only the pioneering critical account of Universal Design but also a deep engagement with the politics of knowing, making, and belonging in twentieth-century United States.

336 pages, Hardcover

Published November 1, 2017

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Aimi Hamraie

1 book3 followers
Aimi Hamraie (they/them) is Associate Professor of Medicine, Health, & Society and American Studies at Vanderbilt University, and director of the Critical Design Lab.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
24 (52%)
4 stars
16 (34%)
3 stars
3 (6%)
2 stars
1 (2%)
1 star
2 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 6 of 6 reviews
Profile Image for Alyssa Chrisman.
110 reviews2 followers
February 7, 2018
This book is well-researched with a strong focus on intersectionality throughout. It was a little dense for me, but it gave me a better understanding of how knowing-making and access have come to be what they are today and what work still needs to be done.
58 reviews2 followers
October 10, 2021
Absolutely must read
! A fresh perspective and a new mind-shift from design for average to design for all .The wealth of archival materials is mind blowing! One of the most challenging and interesting pieces I have read .
Profile Image for Adrienne Wright.
83 reviews1 follower
December 21, 2020
As a professor of interior design, this book has dramatically reshaped my thinking in terms of what defines the concept of Universal Design in the context of usable space. A must-read for everyone, but in particular for those of us in facets of design in context of the built environment.
Profile Image for Hannah Silver.
305 reviews14 followers
September 30, 2021
This is an unquestioningly foundational text of critical access studies, and now a part of my personal canon. I need to review all of my highlights and notes!
Displaying 1 - 6 of 6 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.