Alumna gives talk at RIBA Research Matters


MArch Architecture graduate Amy Francis-Smith recently presented her paper ‘Psychogeography of the Home – A Disabled Perspective: A Contextualised Analysis of the UK Accessible Housing Market’ at the recent Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Research Matters.

March Architecture

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Held in Nottingham in October, Research Matters offers early career stage researchers from academia and practice an opportunity to present their work in a setting similar to that of a peer-refereed conference but in a more constructive, supportive and non-confrontational atmosphere. The conference is also a chance for more established researchers from academia and practice to present their current research.

“I was recommended to submit my work by a BCU PHD research candidate and fellow Birmingham Architectural Association committee member earlier in the year and was overjoyed when my research paper was selected”, Amy explained afterwards.

“My research stemmed from personal experience witnessing family and friends struggle to do the most basic of daily tasks in spaces that were working directly against them” Amy says. “I have been interested around the themes of inclusive design and accessible housing for several years, something that is vastly overlooked by much of the architectural, design and built environment community. Accessible design is treated much like sustainable design was 15/20 years ago; putting in a lift and a disabled loo is the equivalent of just chucking some solar panels on a roof and saying it's efficient.”

There are 13.9 million disabled people in the UK, with 1.8 million who have a need for accessible housing and yet only 7% of homes in England have even the most basic accessible features such a level front door. Due to the lack provisions, 100,000s of people will have to move house, spend thousands adapting their property or risk becoming trapped, prisoners in their own home; losing independence and autonomy over their own lives.”

“Through interviewing 100s of individuals, analysing existing case studies and extensive research, the paper discussed the societal attitudes towards disability, historical ergonomic studies that have shaped the built environment towards the ‘normal body’ and the detrimental effect poor housing can have both physically and psychologically on the occupant. As well as current legislative issues, the beneficial integration of technology into the home and the promotion of inclusive user-led design as a tool for greater communication to deliver a more resolved, empathetic output.”

“This is part of an ongoing research series including my thesis design project on accessible housing, running a short pilot course for blind/visually impaired students at The Bartlett, campaigning for legislative change, holding events and giving talks to educate students, universities and professionals of their social responsibility and the formation of a RIBA Disability group, giving visibility and a voice to UK architects. I also sit on Habinteg's Advisory Board, an accessible housing association where we are lobbying government for improvements to the current system.”

“The MArch at BCU gave me the freedom to take my work in the direction I wanted whilst also providing the supportive structure and rigour of developing more resolved iterations” Amy says. “I started the course knowing which themes and routes I wanted to explore and am grateful for the variety of options available that allowed me to pursue my passion. 

“The facilities are beyond that of many other universities I have studied or visited in the past; I was glad to be around highly supportive and empathetic staff when I was faced with my own challenges of disability and intense chronic health.”

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