The moving platform in Rem Koolhaas’ Maison à Bordeaux allows the inhabitant to access a series of stacked volumes without having to move. Photo via.
Some of the most memorable works of architecture have arisen from life’s unfortunate setbacks: a near-fatal car accident led a wheelchair-bound man in France to commission the Maison à Bordeaux, Rem Koolhaas’ shining example of alternative interior circulation. Frank Lloyd Wright similarly designed a home in 1948 for Kenneth Laurent, a disabled war veteran whose life was made easier by Wright’s spacious, curvilinear plan. In contemporary Tokyo, Takeshi Hosaka architects designed a peculiar home for a deaf couple and their family, enabling the parents to communicate with their young children even from considerable distances.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have left no shortage of injuries and setbacks. But as NPR reports, a significant number of wounded U.S. soldiers wish to remain in uniform. At a U.S. Army fort in Virginia, developers are now overseeing a grand housing experiment called the Wounded Warrior Home, which is setting out to repair and retrofit 2,100 homes to accommodate disabled soldiers. Read on.
As project director Casey Nolan told NPR, “When you’re in a wheelchair, it is a game of inches. Whether it’s the width of the doorway, or it’s the height of the counter—[it’s] how far you can reach.” Nolan’s goal was to not only meet standards of handicapped-accessibility, but to rethink and reinvent the form and circulation of the home.
Nolan was not only thinking about wheelchair-bound soldiers, but soldiers recovering from full-body burns, soldiers with prosthetic limbs, soldiers going through post-traumatic stress, and soldiers in need of physical or psychological therapy. The project attracted celebrated architect Michael Graves, who himself struggled with a debilitating illness that left him in a wheelchair, and IDEO partner David Haygood, who was struck with Parkinson’s disease after exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
The ingenuity of the project lies in its attention to detail. Not only were garages and hallways enlarged and rooms fitted with nonskid surfaces, adjustable countertops, power outlets for prosthetics, and automatic or sliding doors, but less apparent disabilities were given equal consideration: bright yellow paint on a single-story home was used for its universal psychological appeal; lighter wood on floors stand out for soldiers with impaired vision; clerestory windows were installed to bring more of the outside in. One wounded soldier even suggested building a ‘man room’ upstairs for private self-reflection. As NPR put it, “All wars bring innovations – in weapons, and also in ways to repair the damage done.”
[All photos via NPR unless otherwise noted]