The Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Architects’ (NLAA) first annual Architecture Week NL kicked off on Saturday and is now in full swing. This evening, architect Grant Genova will be giving a lecture titled “Accessibility & Design in the Downtown” from 7:00 – 8:00pm in the Neal Building on Harbour Drive.
At 70, Genova has decades of experience as a practicing architect and he is passionate about improving St. John’s. Genova is part of Universal Design NL which recently launched a website devoted to helping people make residential and public spaces more accessible.
He is also part of a new project headed by Common Ground Coworking, which hopes to repurpose five vacant buildings downtown with accessibility concerns in mind.
“I’m seventy years old and I’ve been at it my whole life. I love the lifestyle. It still gets me up in the morning,” Genova said. “My principles haven’t gone away because of my age, they actually take a while to collect. One of my priorities is making an environment that connects to human beings and to the planet.”
Genova believes that a lot more could be done to make both public and private spaces in our city more accessible. He says there is a misconception that making a building accessible means increasing the project’s budget.
“There isn’t a profit problem, you just have to adjust the priorities of what you want your building to respond to. The percentage of construction budgets that go towards heating ventilation and air conditioning in Newfoundland is so grandiose and ridiculous that all you would have to do is shift some monies around within budgets to prioritize more appropriately for human needs,” Genova explained.
Genova also believes that to make the downtown more accessible, large projects will have to start collaborating with the buildings that surround them, as well as the city council. He urges developers to work with the City from the beginning of the project, and figure out ways to make the areas around their properties more accessible.
“One of the main things that is interesting about solving inclusivity problems downtown is that we need to start thinking beyond specific building sites. You need to think about other sites around you that contextually touch your property and start working from there,” Genova said.
“You need to start talking to the city because you may be adjusting sidewalks, there’s a lot more than just your legal problems within the territory of your project to consider.”
For Genova, the challenge of trying to make spaces inclusive for everyone is an architect’s duty; it’s not an extra chore, but the essence of the job. He’s proud that he’s been able to prioritize accessibility over the course of his long career.
“One thing I want to emphasize in the talk, is that design professionals need to take this on because it’s a positive thing, it’s not adding more work … we need to make the spaces we live in more engaging and more responsive to everyone,” Genova said.