Computer-Enabled Practice for Disabled Architects
by B.J. Novitski
When Joseph Del Vecchio graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in the mid-1980s, he was blocked from pursuing a routine architectural internship.
Even if he'd found a local office permitting entry to his wheelchair, he would have been unable to reach over the large drafting boards that were routinely assigned to apprentices in those days. In addition, seemingly simple tasks, like getting in a car and driving to a meeting, were tiring and time-consuming.
Thus he would not have been able to work the grueling hours normally expected of interns. So he and his wife Christina Del Vecchio, also an architect-intern, established a home-based business with a licensed architect and began to explore ways that emerging computer technologies could help them compete with more established firms.
They adopted Sonata, an early 3D parametric building modeler developed in Europe. Because the modeler could automatically generate 2D drawings, the software greatly reduced the amount of time needed for drafting.
The Del Vecchios were also early experimenters with virtual reality modeling language (VRML) 3D modeling. They can quickly produce models of designs-in-progress, send them to clients over the Internet, and "walk through" and discuss the design without anyone being inconvenienced by travel.
Soon they will begin using digital photography in construction administration. Anyone at an inaccessible job site will be able to send photos or video of a problem area, which the architects can receive and view over the Internet.
In the 16 years since finishing school, the Del Vecchios have effectively leveled the professional playing field. Together they have formed Access Development Corporation. "The information age is working very handsomely for those people who are profoundly disabled," says Joe Del Vecchio. "I'd probably not be where I am today without it."
Applying Lessons Learned
One of Del Vecchio's observations is that, whether walking or wheeling, people don't make sharp turns to navigate the corners of square rooms. "People tend to move in circles," he says, "so we cut the corners out of rooms. It turns out to make the spaces very efficient."
The Jotto Desk, from Assembled Products Corporation, is an adjustable work surface for mounting laptop computers, cellular telephones, and other equipment for the wheelchair office.
Photo: Infogrip, Inc.
Joseph Del Vecchio has observed how people move through a space—whether on foot or in a wheelchair—and designs angular pathways to increase spatial efficiency.
Image: Access Development Corporation
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