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18 CAA CONFERENCE Society Architects and Emerging Issues Dhaka, November26-27, 2006

OPENING A WIDER VISTA: Design of Accessible Gardens for the Physically Challenged People of Bangladesh

Khondaker Hasibul Kabir and Amir Ebn Sharif, Farah Naz Parveen, Muhammad Nafisur Rahman, Nusrat Fatema and Shamira Islam Department of Architecture, BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh e-mail:

Key words: : accessibility, gardening options, horticultural therapy. Abstract Accessibility problem for physically challenged people in built environment is a major concern for planners, architects and landscape architects. Lack of contextual knowledge base frustrates professionals for combating the problem. CRP (Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralyzed) is an organization dealing with people who are paralyzed due to spinal chord injury and accidents. It provides treatment and rehabilitation services to them. CRP at Savar, Dhaka, is a host of a mixture of physically challenged people of different ages, sexes and backgrounds; from urban to rural, from professor to rickshaw puller. To explore the possibilities in the field of accessibility problem a team from the Department of Architecture of BRAC University was formed to try and understand what contribution architects/landscape architects can make to ongoing development of accessibility for the physically challenged people. It is an ongoing participatory action research started voluntarily without setting any definite objective. Needs, priorities, objectives and activity plans were eventually formulated through a participatory process. Restorative outdoor environment came up as a priority which is a part of horticultural therapy. In doing so the study could develop some appropriate design options for accessible gardens that can be implemented and maintained by the physically challenged people themselves. This paper intends to present the process of developing design options which are sustainable in terms of their needs and aspirations.


Contextual Observation

There was a time when a physically challenged person was considered as someone who has got touch of an evil spirit. The term “Physically Challenged People” is currently widely spoken and considered in developed countries but the situation is no at all in a favorable condition in developing countries like Bangladesh (Waldie, 2002). Accessibility to public buildings, transports, parks and gardens is a right to every citizen. Very recently in the year 2005 on 26th August, papers related to “Rules regarding building structures for Dhaka city” was published. The paper contains the rules regarding “accessibility for all”. But as a matter of fact we still lack the scope of making this term accessibility for all true. “Right of the persons with disabilities” (1975) declared by the United nation was included in the constitution of Bangladesh. According to that ministry of social welfare took new initiatives and in the year 2001 new law to benefit the physically challenged people were published. It is very much vivid that to introduce the laws there is no limitations from the decision makers rather to implement them (Annee, 2005). Considering these social and national factors in this context regarding physically challenged people, how individuals and organizations can be a part of the change is a legitimate question to be asked.


Towards the Vista

To explore the possibilities in the field of accessibility problem a team from the Department of Architecture of BRAC University was formed to try and understand what contribution architects/landscape architects can make to ongoing development of accessibility for the physically challenged people. The journey began initially not to deal with some very serious issues but to stir up the team members’ own senses and to learn more about the people around. CRP is an organization dealing

K H Kabir, Amir E Sharif, Farah N Parveen, M Nafisur Rahman, Nusrat Fatema, Shamira Islam

with people who are paralyzed due to spinal chord injury and accidents. It provides treatment and rehabilitation services to them. The centre started its mission in Bangladesh shortly before the independence of the country. And the women, who first took the initiative to launch the program was a British physiotherapist Valerie Taylor. In a country like Bangladesh where people are surrounded by superstitions, the initiative like that was resisted by many obstructions. But as time passed CRP’s aspirations and efforts to make a different but beautiful world for the ‘especially able people’ came true (Annual report, 2005).

Fig.1. Map of CRP, Savar, Dhaka

3 Observations 3.1

Green spaces

After the inquiry about CRP’s outdoor environment the team focused on outdoor spaces and the relationship with indoors. CRP is endowed with green, ample open spaces defined by two to four storied buildings. Over time it has grown both horizontally and vertically. Spaces around main reception are designed with flowering trees and shrubs of seasonal interests and well maintained. CRP runs a plant nursery which focuses mainly on producing ornamental plants for planting here and selling outside. Spaces near patients’ hostels, where they stay most of the time, seemed to be ignored which has potentials to become a restorative environment. There is a generator room which is the source of high noise situated near patients’ hostels. CRP has different types of vehicular and pedestrian network. Some are asphalt paths, while others are of bricks which are rough for wheelchair access. During rainy season brick paths become muddy, as they are not high enough from ground and rainwater drainage system is not well thought out.


18 CAA Conference, June 23-27, 2006, Dhaka, Bangladesh


Lack of accessibility

One of the major observations was, there is adequate spaces CRP but is not accessible. Some are visually accessible but seems to be monotonous. Although some spaces look lush green with plants of the nursery and timber yielding monoculture trees it lacks biodiversity. There are two ponds (Fig.1). One is used for hydrotherapy which has sitting spaces around, most of which are not accessible to wheelchairs. The other pond has tremendous potential to enhance biodiversity and to promote that as a nature recreation area. The team focused on outdoor spaces of patients’ hostels (Fig.2 and 3) of CRP, as the patients do not like the existing outdoor spaces around them. The hostels are single-storied pitch-roofed buildings with series of rooms along single-loaded corridors overlooking courtyards filled with nursery plants waiting to be sold.


The challenge

The design team’s idea was to develop design options for garden for physically challenged people and to design a specific area using the options developed. This effort could contribute to existing literature on accessibility (Momin, 1997) in the context of Bangladesh. At the very beginning, the team studied the basic space requirements for people using wheel chairs, and special requirements for ramp, walkways etc which satisfies the existing standards for accessibly (Harris, 1998). Design of a garden for the ‘half way hostel’ was appeared to be in priority after observations and discussion. Half ways hostel is a place where patients are kept in an environment just like the environment of there home, so that they can cope up properly. In most of the cases people are from rural areas and a rural homestead feeling is provided by the administration to the patients. This approach is taken only to make them more conscious and selfconfident. Here they get different necessary trainings and therapies – physical and mental both. Horticulture therapy, a therapy mainly through gardening, is one of the priorities. While selecting design methodologies, “bottom up approach” was considered to be effective. The approach was exploratory, participatory and open ended. The process includes the following primer steps: • Getting to know each other- place and people. • Non Structured Discussions • Focus Group Discussions • Developing Design Options


Getting to know each other – place and people

CRP is run by a number of both professional and non-professional people. Volunteers from different countries all around the world come here to contribute or just to know about the idea behind the scene. It was a great experience for the design team getting to know all those people around. But the most effective part was to meet the patients. The team came to learn about their accidents, their previous life style, and their new life first hand. It was really amazing part to observe for the design team, that the patients never feel uncared or out of place, inside CRP. They felt happy to interact with outsiders; they were even interested to tell their stories willingly. Everyday they go through some regular activities, which include playing basketball, discussions to improve the quality of life; they indulge themselves in paintings, music, and act in plays. An example of how our so called “differently able” people are contributing can be seen if we take a look at the paintings done by Lovely-a patient of CRP. She recently passed out. She as couldn’t paint with her hands, amazingly painted pictures with a brush holding in her mouth. She was national hero in deed. Every morning in CRP waited for the team to rediscover themselves in a new way. The way the patients there motivate themselves was a lesson for the team in deed– who are physically well fitted.

K H Kabir, Amir E Sharif, Farah N Parveen, M Nafisur Rahman, Nusrat Fatema, Shamira Islam

Fig.2. Patients’ hostel

Fig.5. Making models

Fig.3. Half way hostel

Fig.6. Focus Group Discussion (FGD) with patients

Fig.4. Gardening with modified tools

Fig.7. Drawing design options developed during FGD

4.2 Non-structured discussions For the design team CRP seemed to be like an ‘Open University’ to learn about physically challenged people. Learning about place and people took place in the hospital, library, metal and wood workshop, cafeteria, hostels, indoor games room, basketball ground, around the hydrotherapy pond, in the school, everywhere the team went with the patients, staff, volunteers and students. The learning process was quite relaxing, as the team did not commit anyone to do ‘something’ for CRP. The team members could communicate their ‘confusing objective’ to the people at CRP and the people there felt the need to comment/advice and participate with the team. Immediately the team became bigger, comprised of patients, physiotherapy students and staff, gardening assistants, engineers who design and make wheel chairs and other equipments. All the members felt the need for restorative outdoor spaces in CRP. They set their objectives, work plans, and tentative out comes within a limited time frame.

4.2.1 Measurements and documentations A study of existing outdoor space use pattern of the hostel was prepared with measured drawings. All the trees around patients’ hostels were identified and were plotted on the plan. During this documentation phase the team built a good relationship with CRP people including stuffs and could know more about the patients’ needs and aspirations. The team felt the need to revise their work plan after seven days. They decided to conduct at least two ‘focus group discussions’, one with the patients of ‘half way hostel’ and the other with the residential students studying physiotherapy. They made two models (Fig.5) to use during discussions

4.3 Focus group discussions with patients and residential physiotherapy students One of the most effective processes to carry out the whole work was the Focus Group Discussion (FGD) (Fig.6). It was held in the ‘half way hostel’. In CRP patients usually need to stay for a longer period of time. They go through several phases in several rooms according to their health condition. The last step .

18 CAA Conference, June 23-27, 2006, Dhaka, Bangladesh

before leaving CRP is ‘half way hostel’ where they get different training according to their ability and interest to cope with the ‘real world’ outside CRP. The hostel is arranged around a square shaped courtyard where patients practice how to plant on the ground. As they cannot reach ground from wheelchairs or from long trolleys, CRP authority developed some modified gardening tools (Fig. 4) which are long enough to reach. Patients can dig holes with these tools but cannot plant by themselves. They cannot touch their small plants and seedlings on the ground. They need others help to plant and maintain. The team made a model of ‘half way hostel’ with all existing buildings and plants for FGD. The immense participation of the patients helped the team to take major decisions in developing design options. The FGD held with the patients focused on the gardening process for them. Through the discussion observations like- how the garden should be accessible for them, what kind of garden they want, came out. Most of the patients resided in villages. One of the major issues was how they will work in their garden way back home, where they are less facilitated than at CRP. The discussion opened up the following points• Raised planting-bed and smooth surface around are preferable. • Rainwater harvesting may allow them to water by themselves. • Garden should provide all the year around interest. • As often people ignore physically challenged people. Patients think that if they have a good garden, people may come to them to talk about their gardens; they will not feel as left out people in the society. CRP is not only for patients but also for students, doctors, staffs, volunteers and visitors. The design of outdoor spaces should cater all people’s interest. Students here like their campus but they like to have more group sittings and activity spaces surrounded by plants. All the outdoor spaces should be accessible so that students and the patients can sit and pass time together. Location of garbage disposal needs to be well thought out. Students prefer more fruit trees and flowering trees rather than timber yielding trees.

4.4 Developing design options Based on FGD outcomes design suggestions were developed (Fig.7) according to the needs of the user group. In most of the cases patients receiving treatment facilities in CRP are from low-income group. The design team concentrated on creating options, which were easily available and affordable. Local construction materials like wood, rice straw, jute sticks, bamboo, brick, brick chips, sand etc. were found to be appropriate construction material options (Fig. 8, 9, 10 and 11).

4.4.1 Raised planting bed Accessibility problem while gardening was the major concern for the patients. Raised planting bed will allow them to plant and weed their garden by themselves. According to the status of physical ability of the patient, planting beds’ options were developed. Height, width and other details of planting beds came out from the discussion were, interestingly, not different from the standard architectural data (Harris, 1998), North-south elongated beds were preferred for allowing proper light and air which may vary with the type of plants used. One of the great achievements for the team was, the simplest solutions of gardening came out from the patients. They are very much enriched by the knowledge of local material, local solutions regarding raised planting beds, trees, there uses etc. While developing options for raised planting beds all the measurements were provided by the patients. They talked about the height, width and planting options on beds according to their requirements. According to their preference to protect from sliding of planting beds local materials like bamboo, jute stick, and straw were suggested (Fig - 8, 9 & 10). For long lasting planting beds, ferro–cement was one of the options designed. Provision for proper water outlet was also suggested (Fig -11).

K H Kabir, Amir E Sharif, Farah N Parveen, M Nafisur Rahman, Nusrat Fatema, Shamira Islam

Fig.8. Raised planting bed using rice straw as construction material

Fig.9. Raised planting bed using jute stick as construction material

Fig.10. Raised planting bed using bamboo as construction material

Fig.11. Raised planting construction material




4.4.2 Platform for climbing vegetables Usually platforms made for climbing vegetable are too high to reach from wheel chairs. The important considerations for the people on wheel chairs are – the ground needs to be raised for planting and the platform where plants will spread needs to be lowered down.

4.4.4 Paths and pavements Materials which are cost effective and locally available, were preferred for designing paths and pavements. For example bamboo, cut in half, were tied together and laid to make smoother paths (Fig.12), for the patients on wheel. Bricks can also be used in pavements with grass in between (Fig.13). The gaps lower the cost as well as act as spaces to soak rainwater.

Fig.12. Path using bamboo .

Fig.13. Path using brick

18 CAA Conference, June 23-27, 2006, Dhaka, Bangladesh

4.4.3 Rainwater harvesting In rural areas source of water is from ponds or from tube-well. Both are difficult source for physically challenged people. Rainwater harvesting was agreed to be effective option where water can be stored in a container with a tap in a comfortable height. This option was set, so that the physically challenged people can easily water their own garden without any aid from other people. The design of houses in rural areas is such that it is very easy to collect water (Fig. 14). To collect the rain water falling from the roof simple PVC pipes were suggested. Even when there is no rain someone may help him/her to fill the containers from other sources.

4.4.5 Plants It was found in the FGD that different people like to have different options for their gardens depending on their background, priorities and preferences. Some preferred vegetables, some preferred fruits, some of them wanted flowers while others like to have a mixed used garden. The patients preferred half way hostel to be a mixed garden with interests all the year round. Vegetables and flowers may be grown together so that at least one type of plants will be there if the others one are not. They like to have plants with beautiful flowers which will attract other people to appreciate. They would like to have plants which invite birds and butterflies.



The design team proposed a design option for the half way hostel (Fig.15&16). One of the considerations of the design was – the design of CRP gardens should not be too contrasting for the patients to adapt to the ‘real world outside’. Basic consideration while developing the options of gardening in half way hostel was the accessibility of the physically challenged. Ergonomics, material selection, proper access through ramp design; garden options were prepared according to the need of patients. While doing that local and contextual approach was taken as main consideration. In case of developing the garden, raised planting beds, local vegetables, flowers of different interest around the whole year, rain water-harvesting options all were considered. Basically this approach was just an introductory approach of how to rearrange the resources we have around us.

Fig.14. Rain water harvesting

Fig.15. Plan of Proposed design option for half way hostel

K H Kabir, Amir E Sharif, Farah N Parveen, M Nafisur Rahman, Nusrat Fatema, Shamira Islam

Fig.16. Section of Proposed design option for half way hostel


Going back

The team went to CRP with no definite aim but to know about the people who are in most of the cases ignored. The team went there to learn through practical experiences and thus to generate awareness. The design options brought out solutions that would help the patients in their life after CRP. The team also brought along with them the message of awareness for the differently able people that must prevail not only inside CRP but also outside CRP. One of the factors that came in focus is all the ergonomically solved design options did not follow the conventional architectural/landscape standards. The major learning through this study was getting to know about the accessibility problem both in the public and private spaces for the physically challenged people in our society. The team had a brief opportunity to place themselves in the CRP reality to question their role as architecture students and as professionals. While designing the garden the participation of patients was an inspiration to the design team which proved again that design decisions come from the users’ needs and solutions are derived from those. This small initiative made the team aware of the potential manpower of ours who are been ignored. In the next phase the team is planning to finally implement the options developed. This will automatically enhance the scope of voluntary works among the students too. The team shared their experience with the Vice Chancellor of BRAC University who inspired them to go for the next phase, i.e. executing the garden which may initiate a long term relationship between CRP and BRAC University.

Acknowledgements Thanks to patients, students and staff of CRP for their cooperation and spontaneous participation. Thanks to Professor Fuad H Mallick and Associate Professor Zainab F Ali, Department of Architecture, BRAC University, for their guidance and support.

References [1] Annee, S. Sultana (2005) A letter regarding physical accessibility for all to the architect of Bangladesh, Dhaka, Akashnil Prangon. [2] Annual report. (2005) Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralyzed (CRP), Dhaka [3]

Harris, C. W. and Dines T. N. eds. (1998) Time-Saver Standards for Landscape Architecture: Design and Construction Data, New York, McGrow-Hill.


Momin, A. K. M. (1997) An Accessibility Manual for People with Disabilities, Dhaka, CRP.


Waldie, Elspeth (2002) Triumph of the Challenged: Conversation with especially able people, UK, Purple field press


Accessible Gardensfor the Physically Challenged People of Bangladesh