The Center for Independent Living (CIL) will recognize Professor of Architecture and City & Regional Planning Raymond Lifchez on January 23, 2018 with the Ed Roberts Award, which recognizes and honors those individuals who have made major contributions to the success of CIL and the independent living/disability rights movement in the US and internationally.
An architect since 1967, Lifchez came to UC Berkeley in 1970 as a graduate student in the Department of City and Regional Planning. His architectural experience in New York City working with the elderly made him especially aware and attentive to the people with disabilities he saw and befriended on Berkeley streets and the campus, when Roberts and other disabled students began to appear on the UCB campus in the 1970s and '80s.
When Lifchez began to teach design for the Department of Architecture in 1972 he developed an architecture design studio for undergraduates in which his students integrated accessibility into all of their designs. People with disabilities, some of whom were students at Cal, joined the class as mock clients and guided the students in the design of practical and effective solutions to the many barriers that exist in the built environment. CED was one of the first architectural schools to offer such a course. This groundbreaking class was documented in a video, “A House for Someone Unlike Me,” by Bruce Bassett and produced by the National Center for a Barrier Free Environment’s Adaptive Environments Center in 1984.
In 1979 Lifchez and co-teacher Barbara Winslow published a seminal book, Design for Independent Living: The Environment and Physically Disabled People, which described the class experience and introduced the subject of disability into the mainstream of architecture education. Addressing the needs of the physically disabled and how the environment could be designed so they could live as independently as possible, it was a finalist for the 1980 National Book Awards. This book was the first serious attempt to design from their perspective.
Lifchez has also written numerous other publications on accessible design, the social history of architecture, and architectural design pedagogy. Rethinking Architecture: Design Students and Physically Disabled People (1987), examines this innovative and provocative experiment in architectural education that was sensitive to the needs and challenges of the disabled.
In 1983 Lifchez joined with disability policy analyst Gerben DeJong to author the highly influential article, “Physical Disability and Public Policy,” in the June 1983 issue of Scientific American. This was the first major article in a mainstream journal to make a strong case for universal design and describe the transformation of Berkeley as a city and university.
Lifchez is also the founder and director of the the Berkeley Prize, a renowned international essay competition inviting undergraduate architecture students to explore the ways that design plays a major role in global social, cultural and psychological life. In 2009 the Berkeley Prize was awarded the American Institute of Architects Collaborative Achievement Award. In 2013 the subject of the essay competition was “The Architect and the Accessible City,” to which 150 students from 27 countries replied.
About Ed Roberts:
Ed Roberts was a charismatic leader in the independent living movement who championed the rights of people with disabilities. When he contracted polio, his doctors told his family that he would be a vegetable for the rest of his life. Roberts applied to the University of California, Berkeley, which had never accepted a severely disabled student, and was accepted. He arrived on a campus totally unprepared to accommodate him. After learning about a federal funding opportunity for special programs on college campuses, he led an effort to gain funding for a physically disabled student program at Cal. This program helped disabled students live independently in dorms or the community, and was the model for the formation of CIL in 1968.
Roberts became Executive Director of CIL in 1974 and in 1976, he was appointed the State Director of Vocational Rehabilitation by Governor Jerry Brown. He became an influential and revered advocate for people with disabilities, and in 1983, received a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, which he used to help establish the World Institute on Disability.