Growing up, Jenny Delgado spent a lot of time at her godmother’s house in Merida, on the Mexican Yucatán. Her godmother’s two brothers, both architecture students, inspired Jenny early on.
“The whole scene fascinated me – the drafting tables pushed together, the lamps, and the two of them working side-by-side. For some reason, that image imprinted on me and I just saw myself doing that,” says Jenny.
After working at a small boutique firm in Mexico for several years, Jenny moved to the U.S. and landed a job in our education practice in Los Angeles, a hub of international influences and one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. For Jenny, working with the city’s diverse clientele has shaped her design approach, which she roots in understanding, responsibility and empathy – hallmarks of inclusivity.
Inclusivity design is defined by OCAD University’s Inclusive Design Research Centre as “design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference. Inclusive design aims to remove the barriers that create undue effort and separation. It enables everyone to participate equally, confidently and independently in everyday activities.”
Jenny sees inclusivity as more than removing barriers. She sees it as opening doors.
“For me, the definition is the delivered act of welcoming diversity and creating an environment where all kinds of people can thrive and succeed. It’s not just accommodating for physical capabilities and gender constructs. Designing for inclusivity means that you’re designing spaces where people feel like they belong,” she says.
“While gender is an important factor, inclusive design also includes age, race, ability, and even considering different character traits,” she says. “Specifically in higher education – the age range we are designing for – it’s especially crucial to give young adults spaces where they feel like they belong. As designers, we need to think about providing choice in these settings, and designing different levels of quiet or privacy for different personalities. That’s what it means to design inclusively.”
She feels that a participatory approach is a key step in the inclusive design process.
“It allows the community to voice their needs and concerns, and as designers, we need to listen to and translate those concerns into the built environment. Starting with our charrettes and community meetings, if we truly listen and incorporate those voices, the building will reflect inclusivity.”
When asked if an inclusive approach has ever presented project challenges, Jenny talks about a recent pursuit where the campus director of wellness was trying to address the concept of gender neutrality in recreation.
“Here in California, we have a law that you must provide toilet facilities that don’t say either ‘women’ or ‘men’ – they are gender-neutral. However, when you’re talking about a locker room or an athletic setting, it’s more challenging to make it equal or gender-neutral because there are always safety concerns.”
“There have been hate crimes against people who are transgender, so these locker room spaces need to be located in safe place. Yet, it gets even more challenging when you think that the solution is not necessarily locating these spaces away from others as a way to provide privacy and safety. The solution comes from pushing the idea that gender-neutral restrooms and locker rooms are the expectation in these spaces, and not just a compliance or accommodation issue. By incorporating that mindset thoughtfully into our designs, that’s how we can promote inclusivity.”
Jenny admits the process isn’t always easy.
Sometimes when the design process is painful and stressful, you tend to forget about the impact your design will eventually have on people.
On how equity and inclusivity fits into our firm’s vision, Jenny agrees that CannonDesign is already working with a diverse client base with diverse end-users in mind. However, she emphasizes that there are opportunities to continue educating ourselves and our clients.
“Where we can improve is understanding that diversity and inclusion are two different things. Simply put, diversity is a representation of many different types of people – gender, race, religion. Diversity focuses on the differences that we have and the mix of all of us,” Jenny explains. “Inclusion is the delivered act of welcoming diversity, and creating the environment where we can all succeed.”