Cities have the potential to cater to the full range of human needs and wants. The extent to which they do so depends on "access" – on whether their inhabitants are able to take advantage of all that cities have to offer.
The Schindler Award has the goal of improving access and overall mobility for all city dwellers, irrespective of their age, status or physical capabilities. To that end, it challenges young architects to think beyond form, light and materials and to focus on the needs of the people who will eventually inhabit the structures and spaces that they design.
Schindler founded the Award that bears its name in 2003, with the aim of raising awareness about obstacles and barriers faced by city dwellers, and especially those with disabilities.
As a company specialising in solutions, based on elevators and escalators, Schindler is continually being made aware of the problems in our built environment. Typical examples are buildings accessible only by stairs and areas inaccessible to pedestrians because of barriers such as busy roads.
Schindler's products and technologies contribute towards mitigating these problems, but the issue is and will always be primarily one for architects and city planners because it is they who design the built environment. Hence, the focus of the Schindler Award is young architects and schools of architecture in Europe.
Schindler has long practiced a "Design for All" approach that permits barrier-free transit for everyone, irrespective of their age, status and physical capabilities. The company is a pioneer in traffic-management and user-identification systems which assign lifts based on passengers' special needs, and its technology was recognised by European Commission's "Breaking Barriers Award" in 2001.
The Schindler Group, founded in Switzerland in 1874, designs, manufactures, installs, services and modernises elevator and escalator systems for almost every building type. Schindler is present in more than 140 countries and its products move 1 billion people every day.
Since the first competition in 2003/04, the Schindler Award has contributed a great deal to raising awareness of the issue of accessibility among young architects and architectural institutions in Europe.
The Award grew out of the Schindler Group's involvement in the European Year of Disabled People in 2003, when Schindler supported projects aimed at raising awareness of the obstacles faced by disabled people. Initially, the Award concentrated on improving disabled access. But rapid urban growth and demographic changes have made accessibility an issue for all urban dwellers, and the Award has broadened its focus accordingly.
A significant achievement of the Schindler Award has been to bring accessibility as a topic into European schools of architecture. Many schools which supported their students' participation have introduced the topic into lectures and their curricula with the result that many young architects in Europe realise that accessibility – or more often the lack of it – affects a significant and growing proportion of the population.