What does the brain have to do with our building project? Consider this a short introduction to tenacity, a quality anyone building a world-class campus showcasing universal design needs a LOT of.

New research suggests that “the anterior mid-cingulate cortex (aMCC) is an important network hub in the brain that performs the cost/benefit computations necessary for tenacity.” In simpler language,  Andrew Huberman (host of a terrific, though long-winded, podcast on neuroscience and health) explains that the aMCC is activated when people do things they don’t want to do – like I hate to work out but I’m going to do it anyway; or I want that ice cream but I’m not going to eat it; or math intimidates me but I’m going to crack this algebra assignment. The research also suggests that the more we practice doing things we don’t want to do and mastering difficult new skills, the more tenacity we develop. Like any other muscle, it gets stronger with repeated use.

This week, Sumita and I attended a two-day capsule course on the National Building Code of India with specific focus on Accessibility. That’s our bread and butter – you’d think it would have been easy. It’s pretty much all I have thought about for the last 35 years and now with construction underway, Sumita and I even dream about it. So why should it require new skills, willpower or tenacity to stay the course?

Here we are with our batch mates (including our architect Arti Mathur and Mrinalini Ghosa, a young intern from her firm). This was on Day One of the program and we hadn’t yet gone beyond the discussion of the Indian Constitution and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act – things we can discuss in our sleep. We’re smiling in the photo because we have no idea what’s coming.

Formal class picture of students and faculty. Two rows of adult students, many are in wheelchairs, or blind or older. Beneath photo is a list of the names of those included.

The very next session took us deep into the specifications of universal design, beginning with anthropometrics (the science of measuring the human body). Why this is important in designing a building is clear the moment you stop to think about it: a building designed only for children, for example, would be impossible for adults of typical stature to even enter. let alone work comfortably in. Accurate anthropometrics ensure that everyone using a space is accommodated. In practical terms, this means that the dimensions must be appropriate, ceilings high enough, doorways and hallways wide enough, and so on.

Universal design reminds us that some people use wheelchairs or crutches, some are of very small stature, some are blind, some are deaf and that all these differences have to be kept in mind when planning the building.

Man in a suit presenting in a seminar room.By now we were deep into numbers and my mind was already resisting. Sumita loves numbers but I had to force myself to attend as Subhash Vashishth, the primary faculty for the course, put us through our paces. As the day went on, the challenges increased. As the experts in the room (there were disabled people with years of experience, architects who knew much of the code by heart and access auditors who are trained to go through buildings to rate their adherence to the code) added their knowledge to Subhash’s capacious array I could actually feel myself drowning in it all: Too much information! This is HARD!

But at the same time, I could also feel my little anterior mid-cingulate cortex fighting back. It was exciting. My head was spinning with all we had to learn but I had a growing sense of determination. Not only were we going to master it, we were going to implement it too.

At some point in the course, Sumita asked Subhash if he could recommend one building in the country we could visit that met all the requirements for accessibility and universal design.

“I hate to admit it,” he said, “but there isn’t even one.” Then he looked straight at the two of us and said with a smile: “All my hopes are on Latika.”

The rest of the training was easier. Though we recognized the difficulty of what we were taking on we could also see the roadmap we had to follow to get there. It’s all laid down in the guidelines! We just have to be systematic, meticulous and focused. Our goal is clear (nothing less than to have the first fully accessible building in India) and the way to achieve it is just to keep checking things off the list. Experts exist. We don’t have to do this by ourselves.

The tenacity the science all but promises is real. I feel it growing in myself even more strongly now that I see how urgently we need examples of good design in the country. This isn’t going to be easy, but we are going to do it. We are incredibly lucky to have consultants like Subhash, the folks at EnableMe Access, our architects at Pradeep Sachdeva Design Associates and of course, our friends and champions at Cushman & Wakefield.

Long corridor in a building under constructionOur Anterior Mid-Cingulate Cortexes are flexing their muscles. You’ll soon see us strutting around the building site, checking the distance from the parking area to reception, measuring the height of the sinks and making sure there are grab bars and handrails (they aren’t the same!) wherever they’re needed.

This post is just Part One. We learned so much in the course it will take at least four posts to cover. Get ready for the ride! And be sure to bring your cortex.


Showing 6 comments
  • Anjali shukla

    Outstanding effort!
    I am so excited to know of a project coming up considering full compliance with accessibility norms
    A very important, sensitive and inclusive central idea
    Look forward to more of the story! Thanks

    • Jo

      Thank you, Anjali! Watch this space for more – we are still mulling over all that we learned at the seminar and several more posts will appear in the next few weeks.

  • Peter Gibson

    Having met Jo many years ago and seeing her here just as enthusiastic and energetic gave me as much hope as it was to hear that finally, BIS is disseminating the Standardised Development Control regulations. India is blighted with specialisation expertise where authorised experts rule the roost.

    Since around 2015 there has been a slowly developing but powerful trend towards capacity building and simplifying the standards to accommodate that.

    Now the information needed to facilitate inclusion through accessibility is easily accessed and simpler to comprehend. Jo and her team have the support of the most knowledgeable person in this field namely Subhash Vashishth. We are anticipating the first fully accessible building in Uttarakhand

    • Jo

      Thanks so much for this generous comment, Peter. I hope we can continue to work together for our larger goals.


  • Sakshi Aggarwal

    Mr. Subhash’s remark “All my hopes are on Latika” is a statement in itself. This means the government/big corporates should come forward to make this a reality.

    • Jo

      Thanks, Sakshi! We were thrilled to be singled out like that – and it certainly ups the ante for us. We’ve always wanted to make our building an example of what is possible, but Subhash’s remark made it sound like others are watching us too.

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