"People are not stamped out of cookie cutters," says architect Edward Noakes, one of the area's leading proponents of "accessible" architecture. An accessible building to allow access by everyone, including the handicapped. "The accomodations one has to make to allow access by someonw who is handicapped are really not different from what one might find in any home," says the architect. "There are places, however, where the built enviroment must accomodate specific human needs -- thresholds, bathrooms and kitchens, hardware on doors and drawers and even light switches."
Noakes helped draft specifications for accessibility for the handicapped for the American National Standards Institute which are the basis for many state and federal standards -- in what is called barrier-free design -- that determine such things as design of public restrooms for the handicapped or the width of specially marked parking spaces. But public buildings and parking lots are not the only enviroments in which those with special physical needs must operate, and those environments in which those special physical needs must operate, and those environments have the unappealing, clinical look one associate with institutions, as the two houses pictured here testify. One is Noakes' own house, designed with the needs of his wife Roy in mind. The other, by architect Don Hawkings, is the house of political consultant Hugh Gallagher. Both are also comfortable for someone who is not confined to a wheelchair.
The Noakes house, situated on a beautiful wooded plot in Potomac, is all on one level, boasting lots of glass with generous overhangs that allow the winter sun in but shield out the oppressive summer rays. While most standard doorways are 32 inches wide, the Noakes house has 36-inch doors. Sliding glass door leading from almost every room to the outdoors have shallow ramps on the outside to direct water away from the house and make access from the interior easy in a wheelchair.
The arrangements of spaces and furnishings in the two-bedroom house give little indication that Roy Noakes manages the house from a wheelchair. A hallway-style room, the kitchen demonstrates the most forethought. On one side of the room the countertop is four inches lower than standard, just the right height for use by someone in a wheelchair, and has sink, an eletric cooktop and a built-in food processor. Opposite the counter is a set of drawers that forms a clever pantry. None of the appliances in the kitchen was specially designed for the handicapped; all were selected to better serve a seated person.
Ted Noakes believes that all new housing could be designed so that the handicapped could move anywhere. "One should design a home like an engineer: you find the toughest thing to handle and you design for it. It's like desiging a building to withstand a earthquake. You may never have to use that capability, but it's there in case you need it. Acessible housing can be the same way," says the architect.
When Hugh Gallagher asked Don Hawkins to design a small house for him in the Maryland suburbs, he wanted a house that would meet his needs and still compete favorably on the market should be ever want to sell. The house, Hawkins' first as an independant architect 14 years ago, has two bedrooms, a spacious living room, dining room and kitchen tucked in the woods. Doors from all rooms but the kitchen and bath open onto a deck, and the 1400-square-foot house seems larger than it is.
Although his needs may be less common than those of someone not confined to a wheelchair, Gallagher found the same problem every architectural client faces. "We had to get to know one another better before I could get Don to understand what I wanted to do," Gallagher says. "It took a couple of night of just sitting about literature, about things that didn't even relate to the actual job, before I felt comfotable with him and he with me."
As the staff author of the original legislation on barrier-free design when he served as legislative aid Sen. Dewey Bartlett in the late '60s, Gallagher is particularly sensitive to making his living space accessible to everyone. Even his kitchen counters are standard height. "My mother always told me the best labor-saving device was a maid," quips the bachelor. But while Gallagher refused to make concessions to his seated position in the kitchen, he and Hawkins came up with a unique solution to the problem of venilation in the house: instead of the usual double-hung windows which are difficult to operate, Gallagher's windows are actually glass doors, opening to fixed screen windows. The broad expanses of glass and the window doors make the house at one with the outdoors. CAPTION: Picture 1, Political consultant and newsletter writer Hugh Gallagher descends a sloping ramp in his suburban Maryland house, designed by architect Don Hawkins. The ramp not only helps make Gallagher's house accessible but also makes it a multilevel dwelling -- from the dining room table, one looks over the living room onto the deck and woods beyond.; Picture 2, Gallagher's contemporary house is covered in a natural silver cedar siding that is easy to maintain. Hawkins surrounded the house with a deck which is excessibel by door from every room excpet the bath and kitchen. As well as taking advantage of the house's beautiful wooded setting, the deck allows a rapid exit in case of fire.; Pictures 3 and 4, The kitchen in Ted and Roy Noakes' Potomac house is designed so that Roy can work from her wheelchair and features lower-than-standard countertops an eye-level wall oven and a pantry of roll-out drawers.; Picture 5, Roy Noakes sits weaving at the table loom in her living room. Behind her is a Scandinavian-designed upright piano wich accmmodates the height of her wheelchair.; Picture 6, From her bed Roy Noakes can operate a control panel which governs floodlights, outlets near her bed and the electrically controlled drapes. Photographs by Breton Littlehales.