Building Accessibility

Accessibility to historic buildings is often a necessary code upgrade, not to mention important to insure that everyone can enjoy the building. Inside we see chair lifts on railings, elevators, ramps. On the exterior we see elevator shafts and accessible ramps of all materials and interesting placements. Sometimes a ramp will block the facade or detail of a building. That is not to say that a building should not have a ramp, but perhaps more creative planning would help.

Consider the Leicester Meeting House (1836):

Leceister, VT

Leicester, VT. Can you see the ramp? It blends into the landscape. Note the red landscape and the window that was partially converted to a door.

Closer view.

Closer view. See the bridge from the ramp to the building. The railing and the bulkhead doors match.

Leceister, VT

Leicester, VT: 1836 Meeting House

What do you think? I think it’s one of my favorite ADA solutions that I’ve seen. The approach to the building on both sides is pleasant and open to the town green, neither the front or side hidden (an ADA entrance should not seem like a secondary entrance).

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12 thoughts on “Building Accessibility

  1. While it blends very well, my knee-jerk reaction is to hate the conversion of the window into a door. I’m not against accessibility, but think sometimes historic sites can be the exception.

    • I agree, the door isn’t the greatest option, but at least it kept some of the window. I’m torn on ADA sometimes because everyone should be able to see our historic buildings. Yet some places just aren’t conducive — like up a narrow staircase to an attic. Tough decisions.

  2. I, too, think this is one of the best solutions I’ve seen. Many think that historic sites should not have to comply with accessibility regulations but every effort must be made to allow those who are disabled to use historic buildings. When there is absolutely no way to make a historic building accessible without damaging extensive portions of historic fabric, then they are allowed to remain as is.

    We are dealing with this issue here in Gettysburg, PA, one of the most historic towns in the country.

  3. I watch for successful solutions:
    Sturbridge Village has similar access ramps. Theirs are separate from the house to allow for water runoff by about 3 feet, then a little wood ‘bridge’ that comes in at the threshold.
    I have seen very successful ones that go back and forth across the front of a building, but are landscaped to be a garden.
    West Parish Church in Andover, MA – c. 1835 – added an open front stoop with a rail – gracious: big enough for the minister to greet parishioners and for people to pass by, but in keeping with the size of the entrance. To the left are stairs, to the right a ramp that visually fades into the landscape (and conveniently the grade was higher on that side – ie: less ramp required.) .

    • Jane, interesting finds! I like the landscaped ramps. The problem for those might be that landscape is often integral to historic setting, yet ramps might alter that setting. Still, that is probably in few cases.

  4. Thanks for bringing up a touchy subject. As a bit of a purest I donĀ“t like buildings being messed with…on the other hand, I know there are probably some disabled people who would resent using any entrance other than the main one. An old legal maxim states that “hard cases make bad law”, and that could very well be the matter here as well….

    • I think the worst ramps are those just sprawled across a building without any concern for the architecture. That seems to ruin the architecture for everyone, regardless of how people enter the building.

  5. I like this treatment. A challenge I have seen in the latest ADA code is that it insists that persons with a disability should be able to access the buildings via the main entrance. That being said, most code officials will relax that regulation and allow a side entrance such as this example for historic structures. My issue is, I often feel the law should be relaxed for older buildings that perhaps haven’t been registered as historic…or for those fringe buildings that may be registered someday. It is a slippery-slope. ADA is one of the biggest hurdles in the HP world. That’s for sure.

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