Architecture student wins prestigious award for encouraging accessibility in our cities

Friday, 02 June 2017

Bee-Able

A postgraduate student from the School of Architecture at Oxford Brookes University has won a design award from the Royal Society of Arts (RSA).

The RSA Student Design Awards are the longest-running global student competition - which challenges emerging designers at university level to tackle real-world social, environmental and economic issues through design thinking and skills.  

Briefs are issued each year to encourage designers to tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues. This year, over 800 entries from 21 countries across the globe responded to 12 different briefs, around topics such as designing ways to increase mental agility in old age, ensuring mothers and children in emerging markets have the greatest chance of survival through pregnancy and birth and designing new products or services from disused office furniture.

Sophia Bannert, studying MArchD Applied Design in Architecture at Oxford Brookes, won this year’s RSA Student Design Awards Inclusive Living brief for her project Bee-Able which aims to propel real change in the way architects and designers approach disability in cities.  

Her interest in accessibility began in 2013 with her Berkeley Prize winning essay, The Architect and the Accessible City. In 2014 she then went on to win the Architect’s Journal Writing Prize, where she mused on the experience of architecture without sight.  

We all know how difficult it is navigating cities. Can you imagine how difficult it would be if you couldn’t see where you were going or couldn’t go up and down steps? Many people don’t need to imagine this, because it is their reality.

Sophia Bannert, studying MArchD, Oxford Brookes University

Bee-Able is a rating system for accessibility in the city powered by user-generated content (UGC) and a set of illustrations that show the frustrations thousands of people go through on a daily basis due to inaccessible and exclusive design.  

All the winners of these awards receive either a cash prize or paid work placement with a sponsor, as well as fellowship to the RSA. Sophia has been awarded a cash prize by the UK Government’s Office for Disability Issues (ODI) which she will use to help lift her project off the paper.  

Speaking about her project Sophia said: “We all know how difficult it is navigating cities. Can you imagine how difficult it would be if you couldn’t see where you were going or couldn’t go up and down steps? Many people don’t need to imagine this, because it is their reality. The challenges they face every day, just in getting from A-to-B in our busy cities, compares to hacking your way through a deep jungle.

“These people are virtual prisoners in their cities. Barriers confining them can be as simple as a narrow pathway, or lack of clear signage.

“A key part of Bee-Able is to create a rating system for accessibility in the city, powered by User Generated Content (UGC). Over time, a clear picture of the city will be revealed through honest reviews and a star rated system, generated by the general public via an application for smart phones and a website. This will allow users to discover in advance where is accessible, whilst simultaneously informing businesses how and where to improve, thus increasing revenue and custom.”

Sevra Davis, Director of the RSA Student Design Awards said: “The awards encourage entrepreneurship, creative thinking, business acumen and real-life application. The programme’s long-standing success is testament to the value of forging inspired partnerships between young creative minds and experienced industry leaders.”  

Full details of each brief and an online showcase of winning entries, are available on the RSA Student Design Awards website.  

More about the School of Architecture at Oxford Brookes University can be found online.