I was awarded a Royal Institute of British Architect’s (RIBA) Research Trust Award to write and research a monograph focused on a retrospective exploration of Selwyn Goldsmith and his principal work – the Architectural Model of Disability. (The complete monograph can be accessed here: LMC Goldsmith RIBA Research Trust 2015)

Selwyn Goldsmith

Goldsmith, Architect, Husband, Father and Author, worked relentlessly to provide understanding for access and inclusion within architectural design. Affectionately known as the ‘Early Accessibility Pioneer’ and the ‘Grandfather of Universal Design’, Goldsmith, an Architects Journal (AJ) man of the year in 1964, was the first Architect to receive the Harding Award for services to disabled people in 1982 and regularly worked with Prince Charles as part of the Prince of Wales Advisory Group on Disability. He did not, however, want to be known as a disability activist.

Two major life events, within the same year (1956), steered Goldsmith along a significantly tangential course from his initial plan; he graduated from architecture school and, he contracted Polio.

Goldsmith OverviewWhen contemplating his future within Architecture and through meeting Bill Allen and Duncan Guthrie of the Polio Research Fund they, along with Gordon Rickets, Secretary of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), proposed creating an architectural guidance manual concentrating on disabled access to buildings. This became ‘Designing for the disabled’ (1963, 1967, 1976), and was reviewed in 1976 by The Architects’ Journal as ‘a remarkable document and a singular achievement’. This text remains an international source of technical information on which access statutes (e.g. Part M of UK Building Regulations) are founded upon.

Goldsmith’s technical recommendations have been incorporated into building design because they have been integrated into statutes, however architects in practice, policy writers and architectural theorists have largely ignored his principles and theories (which are concentrated on the concept of universal design as opposed to inclusive design), presented in the 1997 ‘Designing for the Disabled: The New Paradigm’, which instigated these recommendations. Goldsmith’s work has been virtually ignored by architectural theory. However, does theory have a role to play in aestheticising and understanding access? Furthermore, could theorising universal design increase its social and cultural acceptance? For example, the modern movement aestheticised the ramp and put it in a context where it was understood as ‘avant guard’; in that sense, did it pave the way for Goldsmith?

The objective of this research is to extend our critical understanding of Goldsmith’s Architectural Model of Disability and distil the impact of his legacy. This work considers what his innovations and contributions to practice, theory and concept were, and as a result of the Civic Trust Award in his name, ‘The Selwyn Goldsmith Award for Universal Design’, the innovations that have been designed since. It asks:

  • How has Goldsmith impacted on the profession of architecture and what is his legacy? What is the lineage of Goldsmith’s Architectural Model of Disability? What buildings, architects and researchers did he inspire?
  • Where has Goldsmith left us? Why has so little been written about the Architectural Model of Disability since Designing for the Disabled: The New Paradigm? How does his work suggest further research in advancing the understanding of disability and architecture, in practice and theory?

Research Design: Methodology & Method

This research gathers previously disconnected archival material and discusses it as a body of work that has played a key part in understanding disability within the context of architecture. To date there have been three main components in progressing this research: 1) locating, collating and analysing Goldsmith’s archive (including sources of theme specific multi-disciplinary literature), 2) defining and undertaking research specific ‘Goldsmith Visits’ (to interview family and colleagues), and 3) structuring and delivering research outcome(s).

Unfortunately significant portions of Goldsmith’s papers, sketches and drawings were lost and although several of these ‘archive pieces’ have been traced and copies obtained, other unknown items may remain forever lost.

Multiple-methods are being adopted to interpretively analyse the lineage of antecedents, contextual factors, perceptions, attitudes and anecdotes pre-ceding and pro-ceding Goldsmith’s creation of the Architectural Model of Disability. Semi-structured interviews (Robson, 2002) and purposeful conversations (Burgess, 1982) with Goldsmith’s colleagues, family and friends are adding a rich dimension to this retrospective. Discussions formatted as a Monograph, depicting ‘Selwyn Goldsmith (1932-2011) and the Architectural Model of Disability: A Retrospective of the Man and the Model’, will form the major outcome of this research.

People in the 21st Century are still being disabled by elements of architecture, yet there has been little advancement in understanding this disablement since Goldsmith’s work. In a world currently dealing with an ageing population (experiencing varying disablement) there has never been a more significant time to undertake an analysis of Goldsmith and the Architectural Model of Disability.

This retrospective analysis of Goldsmith’s archive, for the first time, will explore his life and architectural adventures. It will illustrate a timeline from childhood to architecture-hood and beyond, highlighting the events that might have shaped his personality and decisions. It will investigate the personality traits that drove him to succeed and how his determination sometimes impeded his progress. From HRH Prince Charles to Louis Hellman (friend, colleague and architectural cartoonist), this research focuses on the people, architects and building precedent that he has inspired and worked with. It will gauge his acceptance within the profession and will re-awaken the central themes of the Architectural Model of Disability and relay them within forums of architecture and built environment design.


2013 RIBA Yearbook: Lesley J McIntyre, 2013, Gloster, D. Nunes, J [eds] ‘RIBA Trust: Selwyn Goldsmith (1932-2011) and the Architectural Model of Disability: A Retrospective of the Man and the Model’, RIBA 2013 Education Year Book, Royal Institute of British Architects, pages 106-109, ISBN 978-0-9564972-3-9

Journal Article in the Access by Design Journal:  McIntyre, L.J. 2014. ‘Early Accessibility Pioneer and the Grandfather of Universal Design, Selwyn Goldsmith (1932-2011)’. Access by Design Journal, Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE) Issue 140.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Entry for Selwyn Goldsmith: Lesley J. McIntyre, ‘Selwyn Goldsmith (1932-2011)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, (Details to be Confirmed)

Invited Speaker at the Royal Institute of British Architects, Perspectives in Architecture Lecture Series

RIBA Monograph: Lesley J. McIntyre, 2015, ‘Selwyn Goldsmith (1932-2011) and the Architectural Model of Disability: A Retrospective of the Man and the Model’, Independent RIBA Research Trust Scholarship, Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) LMC Goldsmith RIBA Research Trust 2015

Additional Links:

RIBA Research Trust Award

The objective of the this award is to provide support for original independent architecture research by practitioners, academics and recent graduates. It is open to practice-led or academic research and applications must focus on a range of subject matter relevant to the advancement of architecture, and connected arts and sciences, in the United Kingdom.

Perspectives in Architecture Lecture Series

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), through their education program, provide a platform for presenting emerging architectural research and debate.  As part of the RIBA Perspectives in Architecture lecture series, Lesley was invited to present her work on Selwyn Goldsmith.

In explaining the aim of such lectures and  the RIBA state:

‘These events provide opportunities for speakers and audience members to contribute to sophisticated debates as well as providing a platform for presenting emerging architectural research. 

The information gained is used to inform RIBA educational policies and to respond to calls for evidence or consultations by various government departments.  We believe that this work is vital in order to shape and influence the future of the profession.’ (Source: RIBA http://goo.gl/rlWBNn)