Ed Roberts Campus Takes Universal Design to New Heights
© Tim Griffith and Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects
April 4, 2011
Named for a prominent and pioneering Bay Area disability activist, the facility gathers under one roof for the first time seven organizations involved in education, services, policy and advocacy for the disability community; together they have formed a nonprofit that manages the building. The founding organizations are Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program (BORP); Center for Accessible Technology (CforAT); Center for Independent Living (CIL); Computer Technologies Program (CTP); Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF); Through the Looking Glass (TLG, providing services to families with a disabled member); and World Institute on Disability (WID). While they are based in the Bay Area, several of these organizations work on a global scale, adding to the facility’s visibility.
Equally important as the ingathering of these trailblazing organizations is the location of the facility at a transit-accessible location, a former parking lot at the Ashby BART station. A well-marked underground portal leads directly from the ticketing level of the BART station to the basement level of the campus. The connection allows for seamless access on the part of wheelchair users, who are often transit-dependent.
The building exemplifies the mission of its sponsoring organizations by being a model of universal design — an approach to making products and environments as usable as possible by as many people as possible, regardless of age or ability.
Upon entering the low-rise building, visitors are struck by the originality and centrality of the ramp that gently spirals from the first floor to the second, providing easy and equal access for both able-bodied and wheelchair-bound workers and visitors. Suspended from the ceiling and clad in red panels, the ramp makes a bold statement architecturally and philosophically. In fact, the ramp is so central to the building’s concept that the Ed Roberts Campus logo revolves around that circular motif.
In the event of an emergency that shuts down the building’s elevators, the ramp will allow wheelchair users to self-propel down to the first-level exits, sparing them from the danger and indignity of having to be carried out. But the ramp’s emergency role seems far from the minds of visitors; they appear to enjoy the leisurely stroll or ride along the sinuous pathway, which provides another view into the building’s airy atrium lobby.
Architects Leddy Maytum Stacy of San Francisco also built in a number of smaller details that set the building apart. Take the fountain at the north end of the atrium. Not only does the fountain serve as a visual exclamation point where the curved walls of the irregular, wedge-shaped lobby/courtyard veer toward each other, but also, the splashing water is a way-finding feature — an aural beacon helping to orient vision-impaired visitors.
The first-floor bathroom facilities are accessible to the max, with ample room for attendants and a sling to help transfer wheelchair users. Foot paddles are ubiquitous throughout the building, making it easy for a wheelchair user to open doors and summon elevators. Outside on the street level, a pathway of roughened pavement helps lead visually impaired visitors to the front door.
“I think this is the first time that universal design has happened at this level, from the ground up,” said Dmitri Belser, executive director of the Center for Accessible Technology and president of the Ed Roberts Campus.
The Ed Roberts Campus has been some 15 years in the making, pretty much since Roberts died in 1995. The bulk of that time was spent fundraising for the $46 million project, spearheaded by Joan Leon, who worked closely with Roberts in three separate agencies that are now housed in the building that bears his name. “Ed would have loved the idea of building a home for all the organizations that had emerged from the Independent Living Movement of people with disabilities, and that’s why the Ed Roberts Campus is such a fitting memorial to him,” said Leon. “For me, the building is the culmination of my 38-year-career in the disability movement.”
MTC provided nearly $17 million, or some 35 percent of the required funding, including a $2.5 million grant from its Transportation for Livable Communities Program. Additional funding came from local foundations, corporations and individuals and grants from other federal agencies, the city of Berkeley, the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency and BART.
Construction took just 18 months, with the building first opening its doors in November 2010. So far, the campus houses 200 workers spread among the seven sponsoring organizations along with the offices of four other organizations serving the disabled community: a branch of the state Department of Rehabilitation, the LightHouse for the Blind, ToolWorks (a vocational training and placement program) and the California Telephone Access Program. The 80,000-square-foot complex also offers meeting rooms, an exercise studio and a child care center, and eventually will incorporate a cafe.
“I can just see Ed
in the Osher learning center (one of the campus’ several
meeting rooms), welcoming disability leaders from around the world, pointing
to this campus as an example of what each one of them can do if they just reach
for the sky,” said Leon. “He was always urging people to aspire
to things that might seem a bit beyond their reach. And he just loved to see
dreams come true.”
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