Why DisOrdinary

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Aaron Williamson and Katherine Araniello as the Disabled Avant Garde (DAG)

The DisOrdinary Architecture Project starts from the belief that improving the design of built space is not just about ‘adding’ disabled people to existing environments to better meet their ‘needs’. It is about starting from difference to expose and challenge underlying attitudes, assumptions and practices that frame disabled people in particular and limited ways, both in everyday life and through the education and practice of architectural and urban design. So, rather than providing yet more inclusive or universal design principles we begin instead by challenging ableist attitudes and practices. We hope this can open up alternative kinds of inventive interventions – towards not just better inclusive design ‘solutions’ but also better understandings of how the ‘normal’ is constructed in everyday life, and how it can be critically and creatively contested, underpinned by a commitment to social and spatial justice for all.

We have to ask why disability has somehow remained consistently stuck in a non-historical, a-theoretical and, most crucially, seriously under-explored category in relationship to building and urban design practices. It is invisible in both avant-garde and mainstream architectural theories and discourses, just as it has been a persistent absence in critical and cultural theory more generally. Perhaps this illustrates just how deeply disability remains widely avoided, compared to other disadvantaged identities. Unlike gender, race or sexuality – and the feminist, post-colonial and queer studies which underpin associated scholarship and debate – it seems that we assume ‘disability’ to be unable to bring any kind of criticality or creativity to the activity of architecture.

The DisOrdinary Architecture Project aims to change this, through the accumulation of multiple small actions that together produce a substantial culture shift, both across built environment disciplines and in society more generally. We believe that starting from disability has the potential to reveal architecture’s deepest assumptions about what is valued and noticed, and what is marginalized and forgotten, in design and disciplinary practices. We look forward to a time when starting from disability is recognised as both avant-garde and as just a normal part of design processes; and where ability (like whiteness or maleness or straightness) is not the invisible, obvious and natural side of the disabled/abled binary, but understood as a central part of the problem.

For more on our approach, see these videos:

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