Faculty of Architecture and Design, 2018
Aotearoa New Zealand is renowned for its beautiful landscapes and native scenery, with bush walks and tramping being popular activities with both locals and tourists. Enabling Wilderness by Landscape Architect graduate, Matt McKone, imagines how a new Department of Conservation walkway could be designed in order to be accessible by those with disabilities.
Enabling Wilderness aims to combine the discipline of landscape architecture with existing construction and conservation techniques in order to promote a tramping experience that would allow not only those who are able-bodied, but also those with physical impairments to experience Aotearoa’s unique landscapes. The project is considered to be research-led-design, with research and interviews being conducted before the design process was undertaken.
In 2013, 18 percent of individuals over the age of fifteen reported living with a physical impairment that prevents them from walking. This means over 630,000 New Zealanders cannot truly immerse themselves in the New Zealand wilderness and are denied experiencing this country’s natural heritage. The importance of designing with disability in mind cannot be overstated as currently a large section of the community is not being catered for. Out of New Zealand’s 12,954 tracks, a mere 0.2 percent are accessible for those with physical impairments.
The experience of New Zealand’s wilderness is considered to be an essential part of being a New Zealander by many, yet this experience is currently reserved for those without disabilities. McKone’s initiative proposes an elegant, designed solution allowing both able-bodied and disabled individuals to complete a multi-day track together.
The research for the initiative recognised that in order to succeed, the design modifications would have to enhance the hiking experience for both able-bodied and disabled communities alike. Completing a multi-day tramp in New Zealand’s backcountry is not for everyone, it can be a test of both physical fitness and mental capacity, pushing through rough terrains and being away from the comforts of city-living. Enabling Wilderness aims to alter an existing track to allow it to be accessible for those who are physically impaired and enjoy the outdoors or adventure. Through the use of landscape modifications, the project aims to develop a track designed to utilise the strengths of these individuals, while also having a beneficial impact on those without disabilities.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) works to make a number of tracks accessible for people with disabilities. However, this small number of tracks do not follow a complete end-to-end landscape architecture process with raised wooden tracks being the almost universal method of accessibility. These tracks only allow short excursions into the bush with no real feeling of being disconnected from the modern world. McKone lamented, “None of the wheelchair access tracks are designed with adventure in mind, existing wheelchair tracks take away any sense of adventure from the trail”.
DOC has supported Enabling Wildernes’, stating, “the Department has been keen to understand how the tracks and facilities we provide can be accessed and used by a wide variety of people, including those with physical impairments; we’re working on initiatives to encourage the use of outdoor spaces by people with disabilities”.