Raymond Lifchez is a professor of architecture and city and regional planning at UC Berkeley and serves on the UC Berkeley Undergraduate Program in Disability Studies.
Lifchez, an architect since 1967, came to UC Berkeley in 1970 as a graduate student in the Department of City and Regional Planning. His architectural experience in New York City working with the elderly made him especially aware and attentive to the people with disabilities he saw and befriended on Berkeley streets and the campus, when Ed Roberts and other disabled students began to appear on the UCB campus in the 1970s and '80s.
When Lifchez began to teach design for the Department of Architecture in 1972 he developed an architecture design studio for undergraduates in which his students integrated accessibility into all of their designs. People with disabilities, some of whom were students at Cal, joined the class as mock clients and guided the students in the design of practical and effective solutions to the many barriers that exist in the built environment. This was one of the first architectural schools to offer such a course. This groundbreaking class was documented in a video, “A House for Someone Unlike Me,” by Bruce Bassett and produced by the National Center for a Barrier Free Environment’s Adaptive Environments Center in 1984.
In 1979 Lifchez and co-teacher Barbara Winslow published a seminal book, Design for Independent Living: The Environment and Physically Disabled People, which described the class experience and introduced the subject of disability into the mainstream of architecture education. Addressing the needs of the physically disabled and how the environment could be designed so they could live as independently as possible, it was a finalist for the 1980 National Book Awards. This book was the first serious attempt to design from their perspective.
Ray has also written numerous other publications on accessible design, the social history of architecture, and architectural design pedagogy. Rethinking Architecture: Design Students and Physically Disabled People (1987), examines this innovative and provocative experiment in architectural education that was sensitive to the needs and challenges of the disabled.
In 1983 Ray joined with disability policy analyst Gerben DeJong to author the highly influential article, “Physical Disability and Public Policy,” in the June 1983 issue of Scientific American. This was the first major article in a mainstream journal to make a strong case for universal design and describe the transformation of Berkeley (the University and the City) as a result of disabled students working with the University, professors such as Ray Lifchez, the supportive citizenry of that city, and the leadership of the Center for Independent Living.
Ray is also the founder and director of the the Berkeley Prize, a renowned international essay competition inviting undergraduate architecture students to explore the ways that design plays a major role in global social, cultural and psychological life. In 2009 the Berkeley Prize was awarded the American Institute of Architects Collaborative Achievement Award. In 2013 the subject of the essay competition was “The Architect and the Accessible City,” to which 150 students from 27 countries replied.