- The DisOrdinary Architecture Project - http://disordinaryarchitecture.co.uk -

Selected readings and links A-C


Ableism is defined as discrimination in favour of able-bodied people. It is mainly ‘unconscious’ (although underpinned by violence against, and fear of, disabled people) that is, it is based on common sense ideas, assumptions and everyday attitudes and habits that value particular kinds of bodies over others. These assumptions are so embedded in societies – although they have also changed through history and across geographies – that able-bodied people don’t even have to notice what they do or say that discriminates against disabled people. For example, in designing spaces, places, events, information, communication, and technology to first of all ‘fit’ ordinary life, and only then then ‘add on’ an assumed special category labelled ‘disabled’ is a key fact in disabling some people whilst enabling others. By looking at the privileges of being able-bodied, as well as the inequalities perpetuated against disabled people, we can  challenge ableism.

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Accessible Academic Spaces
Many disability activists and scholars have been exploring how to embed accessibility into all our everyday practices. Much of this work has focused on the spaces of higher education. It explores how academic spaces act both to frame what counts as normal in education and to ‘disable’ non-normative and diverse ways of being in the world. These resources cover both practical changes to academic spaces and events; and more theoretically based investigations.

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While aging and disability have many points of crossover, the aim for more ‘successful aging’ (such as through the age-friendly cities movement) defines getting older precisely in terms of its preferred closeness to the independent, mobile and competent bodily norms of youth, and therefore its distance from disability and impairment. But by thinking about aging as it intersects with disability and ability we can also explore other, different kinds of creative and critical interventions.

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Alternative Representations

When dis/ability is understood as a critical and creative challenge to what counts as ‘normal’ within architectural education and practice, it means re-thinking the very tools and techniques that designers use. This is because conventional design and representational methods, and the processes through which ideas are translated into material spaces, can act to make some bodies matter whilst others become  marginalised or invisible. Increasingly The DisOrdinary Architecture Project has been working with students and others who are exploring how to shift representations of occupation in design, so as to start from the creativity of difference.  Below you can find some examples of this kind of investigation.

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Beyond Sight
Architecture and urban designs are highly visual disciplines in how they map, design and then interpret built space. By starting instead from blindness and visual impairment, we can creatively and critically explore ways of engaging with the material world that value much richer sensory observations and responses. It enables us to ask what touch, smell and sound might bring to the design process, not just as add-ons but as central components of design methods, representations and built results.

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Care Work
Starting from the concept of care work allows ‘caring’ to be made problematic, relational and multilayered; rather than just being normalized through stereotypical assumptions about (active) abled people ‘caring for’ the (passive) disabled. This starts from the everyday commonsense ideas and practices around care that we have, reinforced through the habitual work of normal routines and beliefs (and via the awkwardness and confusion when ‘care’ seems to go wrong). Disabled scholars and activists have long been writing and campaigning around care, particularly when it defines disability in limiting and banal ways.

Care as work also connects to different forms of care – such as housework or office cleaning – and who is assumed to be doing these kinds of tasks. And it can expand outwards to ask critical questions about how ‘care’ tends to be articulated within architectural and design education and practice.

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (2018) Care Work: dreaming Disability Justice Arsenal Pulp Press
Disability Visibility Project (2017) Podcast (and transcript) “Ep 6: Labor, Care Work, and Disabled Queer Femmes”.

Ep 6: Labor, Care Work, and Disabled Queer Femmes [27]

Listen or read the article here [27]

Jos Boys (2014) “Chapter 1: Challenging Common Sense” in Doing Disability Differently: an alternative handbook on architecture, dis/ability and designing for everyday life Routledge

Meirle Laderman Ukeley Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969! Proposal for an Exhibition CARE. Published in Binna Choi and Maiko Tanaka (eds), Grand Domestic Revolution Handbook (Valiz and Amsterdam: Casco, 2014), pp. 133-137. Read her manifesto here.


Kim Trogal (2017) “Caring: Making Commons, Making Connections” in Trogal and Doina Petrescu (eds), The Social (Re)Production of Architecture. Politics, Values and Actions in Contemporary Practice (London and New York: Routledge, 2017), pp.159-174.

Jos Boys (2018) “Invisibility Work? How Starting from Dis/ability Challenges Normative Social, Spatial and Material Practices” in Architecture and Feminisms. Ecologies, Economies, Technologies Routledge, pp. 270-280.

Changing Design Practices

Doing disability and architecture differently is centrally about challenging normative practices. This is both in everyday life and attitudes and in the particularities of architecture and related disciplines. How does built environment education and practice inculcate ‘what architecture is’ – as a job, as a process or as a built results? How does this work to enable some and disable others? What needs to be challenged and changed within the field itself, to better support moves towards transformative social, spatial and material justice?

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