Heritage properties pose challenges in providing access to buildings whilst retaining it’s heritage value
Disabled access to heritage properties remains a challenge for property managers. Many assume that because a building is heritage, provisions for access are not required, or are a detraction from heritage status.
In a past role as a heritage consultant, I was lucky enough to see a number of great heritage buildings and appreciate their value and beauty. Having seen the grandeur of older buildings and modern architecture, there are ample opportunities to implement solutions for greater access. In declaring our heritage properties we have recognised their significance with an intention that ‘places will continue to be experienced and enjoyed by future generations.1
The DDA Access to Premises Standards requires equitable and dignified access for all people to all buildings, therefore it then stands to reason that access to these places be made available for all. While the Premises Standards include a concession for heritage buildings, this does not negate heritage buildings the need to meet the Deemed-to-Satisfy provisions of the Building Code of Australia (BCA) and the Access to Premises Standards. Therefore alternative approaches should be developed which achieve a better outcome for access.
A common challenge for access to heritage buildings is providing a connection from the pedestrian footpath to the building entry itself. In Sydney, many of grand heritage properties have access via a compacted earth or stone paved path. These prove to be access challenges for people with sensory and mobility impairments, but also those with prams. Compacted earth in particular can be even more difficult to manage in wet weather conditions, adding to complications. In deciding on a suitable access solution, it is important to question the heritage significance and the impact. The heritage significance of a property is unlikely to be reduced if the main entry was a hardstand and slip-resistant, continuous path of travel which will increase ease of access.
It is common for heritage buildings to have grand entry stairs at the main entry. Usually these stairs are significant to the property and are architecturally important in its design. Therefore to facilitate access while protecting the integrity of the design, an alternative entry point can be considered to ensure that access is achieved.
In heritage properties of a public nature, an operational management plan is critical in ensuring access for all is achieved. By conducting a ‘building access audit’ and understanding the operational nature of the building, access consultants can provide an overview of where an accessibility upgrade is possible and seek opportunities to improve access.
In understanding the importance of a building in its functions, heritage significance and access opportunities, an aesthetic and functional solution can be found for heritage sites that meets the Deemed-to-Satisfy provisions and the Access to Premises Standards.
Post by Queenie Tran