Robert Nichols was born and grew up in Princeton, NJ. He has a profound hearing loss since birth. He graduated from Cornell University in 1979 and 1981, where he studied architecture and urban design for B.Arch and M.Arch. degree programs, under the leadership of Emeritus Prof. Colin Rowe (deceased). Work as Owner and Principal of Nichols Design Associates, in Washington, DC since 1993, specializing in Universal Design and American With Disabilities Act (ADA) Accessibility Guidelines and requirements. Mr. Nichols’ expertise includes building surveys and the design of barrier-free environments for major governmental, commercial, institutional and residential clients. He was an instructor and juror in the design studio at Boston Architectural College and the University of Maryland in College Park. He was awarded for a Good Practice in the Project proposals, Studies and Methodologies category in the 2014 International Design for All Foundation Awards; 2005 Watermark Awards for Residential Kitchen; Commendation Award for Accessible Design in Public Architecture from Massachusetts Architectural Access Board in 2005; Honorable Mention for outstanding recognition in the New Public Space Competition from AIA-Western New York Chapter in 1998; Pro Bono Public Award from the Washington Architectural Foundation in 1997; and NEA Excellence in Universal Design Award in 1986.
His Work, in his own words-
My expertise operates with the underlying philosophy that universal design for various elements of building – including ramps, platform lifts, rails, signage, alarms (including audio and visual), accessible and artificial lighting – shouldn’t have to detract from the design of a building. In fact, we believe that sensitively designed and well integrated accessibility features can work within the building context, even complement the design of a facility. More importantly, our experience has taught us that an aesthetically designed ramp (for example) will be welcomed by persons with disabilities. A ramp designed with little or no though will be under utilized.
As I have a presentation for several conventions and conferences, the term universal design has inappropriately been adopted by some people, especially in this country, as a trendy synonym for compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines for Accessible Design, as well as UFAS for the government buildings. This is incorrect. We see the poor design and the problems created by this confusion, especially in thoughtless new designs that end up looking like retrofits. Communications access and other visual elements added in new construction for hearing impaired users are a good example, where none would have been needed if the architects had considered the needs of all other applicable users as fundamental in the earliest stages of the programming process, rather than a technical requirement to be added at the end of the design process. Perhaps this misunderstanding is the result of good intentions – the use of what may be thought of as a politically correct term, but it inhibits the creative process invited by universal design. The term universal design is an approach to design that incorporates products as well as building features which can be used by everyone in their good manner. This is why I am enthusiastic about being involved with the prime design team to improve the relationship between the neighborhood areas, whether the rich or poor community is located, and the new building or modification in existing building that will accommodate people with hearing loss and other disabilities into their facility.