The new Zero Threshold Design Competition has proclaimed that it “refuses to surrender form to function”—an apt rallying cry for a challenge sponsored by the Cleveland Foundation aimed at soliciting bold proposals from around the world that address real-world accessibility concerns. Winners are given the chance to win $10,000 and the opportunity to realize their project in the competition’s hometown of Cleveland.
The 2019 award went to the New York City-based BRANDT : HAFERD for their project SIDE by SIDE, which incorporated the firm’s playful claymation model aesthetic with three major design principles to create a truly accessible house of the future: An Urban Approach, A New Take on the Multi Family / Communal House, and Accessibility at Many Scales.
The ‘Urban Approach’ concept is inherent in the site of the competition, a “fringe” location between the city’s residential quarter and its industrial sector. These edges are an existing social condition in many contemporary cities and are crucial points to study how to connect people in both urban contexts.
Throughout the design and proposed execution, partners Brandt Knapp and Jerome Haferd thought about the community holistically, including how to integrate not just of the disabled members of the neighborhood but of residents at all levels of capability. The proposed design is far from static or sterile, with surprising elements like a double-height lift taking center stage as the core of the theoretical home, replacing the traditional staircase. Enjoyment of the neighborhood outside of the built structure is also taken into consideration, from a rethinking of the local bus system to add more stops, complete streets, and communal gardens both behind the lot and on the top floor.
SIDE by SIDE is not just about serving those with physical disabilities, but about truly serving a community as a whole—celebrating accessibility not just as an end-goal but as a catalyst for design at all scales. The competition took in over 100 submissions from teams from India to Sweden, illustrating how issues of access are truly global in scale, yet necessarily local in their execution. The aim of Zero Threshold hopes that maybe, through collaboration with winning firms and designers, Cleveland can become an access-success story, inspiring design initiatives like Zero Threshold in cities around the world.