Autostrada dei Laghi (the Lakes Highway). One of Italy's most historic autogrills -highway diners and stores-, the Villoresi Est, has been recently renovated, and today it is the first Certified Design for all (Dfa) building. But what does this mean? “It means that it’s designed for human diversity, social inclusion and equality,” Giulio Ceppi, architect designer and lecturer in innovation methodologies at the Politecnico di Milano, in charge of the restoration project of the service area, explains. “This holistic and innovative approach is a creative and ethical challenge for all designers and architects: Design for All aims to enable all people to have equal opportunities to participate in every area of society.”
To achieve this goal, the environment, common objects, services, culture and information, in short, everything that has been designed and made by people to be used by people, must be accessible, convenient to use and made to meet all needs. “The practice of Design for All makes a conscious use of the analysis of human needs and aspirations and requires the involvement of end users at every stage of the design process,” Ceppi adds.
And this is exactly how the Villoresi building site was organized, as the professor explains: “At the heart of the project there was co-design and co-projecting, what most needs to be avoided in this field is empathy towards the other, who should actually be the leading actor in the process.”
What does that really mean? According to Ceppi, “the most concrete and immediate example is the restrooms of the grill”. At the Villoresi service area, the restrooms are all at ground level and can be reached from the disabled-only parking lot with no steps or slopes. “Inside, the space has been divided into the traditional two areas for men and women, each equipped with ten sinks at a height suitable for wheelchair users and children. It was designed especially for women's hygiene and beauty practices,” the designer explains. “From this space you can access thirteen booths with toilets. Of these eight are traditional, with only a toilet, two allow frontal access for wheelchair users with good mobility and three are very wide and equipped for assisted use. In the male restroom, additionally, there are twelve urinals, two of which are for children.” In short, this project has broken the pattern of the distinction of the world in two categories: able and disabled. “Why," Ceppi asks, “divide on the one hand the so-called “normal” people and on the other the “assisted”? It's a devious form of discrimination. At Villoresi Est there are no services for the disabled but rather services for all.”
But that's not all. Two “Breastfeeding Baby Rooms” equipped for hygiene and changing of children in a welcoming, quiet and equipped environment have also been designed. In fact, there are also two traditional bathrooms for people with disabilities. “Without these standard services, you won’t be able to get the necessary permits. However, we decided to give them a new function: to be designed and dedicated in particular to families and for parents who have to take a child to the bathroom. A male adult with a child or an adult woman with a boy may find it difficult to choose which of the traditional bathrooms to go to. With the addition of a child-friendly toilet, the problem no longer exists.
Of course, The Villoresi Est Design for All solutions are not just about with restrooms. There's a lot more to come. Among the most interesting is the Welcome Desk for blind people, located in the reception station at the entrance, designed to be similar to the “concierge” at hotels, where operators provide a tactile map of the area to guide dogs.
“This concierge function has been thought out for those who have motor, perceptual and linguistic problems or who only need information or help,” Ceppi explains. “The property has also been equipped with an automatic routing hotline for calls from buses to alert them to the special needs of the users.”
Play areas for children, fitness areas for adults, spaces for pets are also included. A project so complete and sophisticated that it has been awarded with the DfA quality brand by DfA Italia, which is the first National Member Organization of the EIDD, or Design for All Europe, founded in Dublin with the support of the European Union Horizon program.
“Villoresi is a good example of a new approach to imagining design”, Ceppi concludes, “there are already kitchens, motorized seating, facilitated reading labels, handles and even coffee pots designed according to this philosophy. It's the design of the future.”