The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and Challenge.Gov are seeking submissions for Access for All, a new universal design competition open to landscape architecture undergraduate and graduate students. The goal of the competition is to “stimulate innovation” and reward universal design concepts that can lead to “barrier-free federal buildings.”
The GSA, which owns and manages over 370 million square feet of real estate, seeks to improve access for “federal workers and members of the public, while optimizing government resources and adding value to taxpayers.” Following executive orders from President Biden, the GSA has a new commitment to “ensuring federal spaces are accessible, equitable, and inclusive.”
The GSA now believes that compliance with Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requirements and other existing building and landscape codes aren’t enough to achieve truly universally accessible places.
“Federal facilities are typically designed with a compliance-based approach in mind. That can create barriers to common access and equal experience, which can impact individuals’ ability to fully participate in public life. As one example, restroom facilities follow and comply with all pertinent building codes, but might not consider access for all. Other examples that could benefit from integrating universal design include using ramps versus elevators-only and innovative new options for low-light energy requirements that consider those with low-vision.”
The GSA argues that these barriers can “disproportionately burden members of the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities (short-term, long-term, visible or not visible, mobility), women, and parents or caretakers of dependents.”
The scope of necessary improvements are broad and include the landscapes surrounding buildings. “By leveraging principles of universal design, GSA looks to shift our focus from layering access to equalizing access. Opportunities can present themselves across the spectrum of design—including in spaces such as entrances and public spaces.”
“Whether you work in a federal building or visit one to get the services you need, you should find a space that allows you to fully participate in public life,” said GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan. “GSA continues to strive toward that ideal, and we want the next generation of designers to bring their great ideas to the table.”
Making progress on universal design is also key to building a more inclusive federal community. “Strengthening accessibility to and within buildings will enhance the federal government’s ability to recruit and retain diverse talent.”
In 2015, the GSA committed to certifying all federal projects through the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) and achieve silver level at a minimum.
Hopefully, this competition will help lead to new universal design standards that the GSA can then require for its extensive property holdings, helping to shift state and local building development practices in the process.
Submissions are due May 1. Winners will be announced via Challenge.gov on June 14 and will be mailed a gift card prize. The first place winner will receive $2,000; second place, $1,500; and third place, $1,000.