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Competition: Bespoke Access Awards

The RIBA and Bespoke Hotels have once again launched a £30,000 contest – judged by British Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson – seeking ideas to revolutionise the quality of hotel experiences for disabled people (Deadline: 27 February)

Now in its second year and still open to all applicants, the Bespoke Access Awards seeks ‘imaginative, innovative and potentially realisable’ proposals to improve hotel access for disabled people – including those with learning difficulties – and other guests worldwide.

Concepts that challenge existing ‘joyless, poorly designed and over-medicalised’ preconceptions of disability-friendly hotel facilities are required. This year’s categories include architecture, product design, service applications (digital), service applications (training), and inclusive employment.

Bespoke Access Awards

Bespoke Access Awards

Bespoke Access Awards

The overall winner will receive the £20,000 Celia Thomas Prize. Named after peer and disability rights campaigner Celia Thomas – who has limb girdle muscular dystrophy – the prize is thought to be the UK’s largest for a design concept.

Minister for disabled people, health and work Penny Mourdant said: ‘Disabled customers and clients should have the same quality of experience as anyone else, whether they are travelling, shopping or staying in a hotel.

‘It’s brilliant to see the Bespoke Access Awards enter their second year and continue to build momentum for meaningful change within the hotel sector. Events like this send a clear message about the importance of improving access to products and services, as well as driving equality of opportunity for disabled people everywhere.’

The contest is open internationally to everyone with applications from designers and architects with disabilities strongly encouraged along with collaborations between people with disabilities and design professionals.

Contest judges include Grey-Thompson – who was born with spina bifida, has won 16 Paralympic medals and whose interest in design was fostered by her architect father – along with the awards’ patron Celia Thomas.

Bespoke Access Awards2

Bespoke Access Awards2

Also on the judging panel are Bespoke Hotels chair Robin Sheppard, who previously suffered from Guillain Barre Syndrome, and wheelchair user Alan Stanton of 2012 Stirling Prize-winner Stanton Williams.

Sheppard said: ‘We are delighted to be continuing to lead the charge in making our industry more accessible, both in terms of the design and physical nature of its buildings, as well as the education and attitude of our staff.

‘We continue to embrace the challenge of addressing the issues that affect the delivery of outstanding service for all guests, while building on the outstanding calibre of competition entrants to date and offering inspiration to the industry worldwide.’

Ryder Architecture and accessible bathroom manufacturer Motionspot won last year’s competition with the ‘AllGo’ scheme (pictured), featuring a universal approach to hotel room design ensuring all spaces are functional, flexible, accessible and well-designed.

The winners will be announced at a prize-giving ceremony on 18 April 2018.

How to apply


The deadline for applications has been extended to 27 February

Contact details

RIBA Competitions
1 Aire Street

Tel: 0113 203 1490

Visit the competition website for more information

Bespoke Access 2017 from flora montgomery on Vimeo.

Allgo case study: Q&A with David McMahon

The architectural director at Ryder discusses lessons learned designing last year’s winning scheme

David McMahon

David McMahon

David McMahon

How will your AllGo concept revolutionise access to contemporary hotels?

The AllGo concept is driven by a desire to provide hotel accommodation which is universal, beautiful and personalised, removing the barriers to travel and creating truly inclusive environments. These principles underpin all elements of the design ensuring that environments are inspirational not institutional.

The concept evolved from discussions around the statutory requirement for fully accessible hotel and the challenge with making these spaces inviting for all potential visitors regardless of need. Taking the ‘I’m not staying in the disabled room’ challenge, the team sought to imagine a universal hotel room design, which was adaptable and flexible able to respond specifically to the needs of the guest rather than designing for the lowest common denominator; a trait of many accessible environments.

Ryder architecture and motionspot allgo collaboration

Ryder architecture and motionspot allgo collaboration

This experience should start on entry to the hotel where many focus group participants outlined an initial feeling of anxiety that their fully accessible room – or disabled room to the uninitiated – may already be booked. Developing a universal approach to the design of hotel rooms ensures that all rooms are accessible and guests do not find themselves at the end of corridors overlooking the car park.

The design of the guest rooms was driven through the participatory engagement sessions where it was clear that the integration of technology and the ability to adapt environments was hugely beneficial, representing a step change in accessible design. Many of the team who we engaged with felt strongly that a more innovative and inclusive approach to accessible design would encourage those with additional needs to travel, unlocking new market potential and creating truly inclusive environments.

Which architectural, material, visual and other methods did you harness in your design?

Engagement was at the heart of our design process which manifested in many engagement sessions held with focus groups. The material gathered from these sessions was intrinsic to developing the AllGo concept and spawned a number of other design concepts which the team aim to develop further. These groups were made up of individuals with a variety of disabilities, all keen to enhance the world of accessible design. In total over 40 people contributed to the AllGo submission including designers, occupational therapists and user groups representing individuals with a variety of needs.

Allgo room2 mobile

Allgo room2 mobile

All the material produced for the submission was modelled and rendered in Autodesk Revit 2016 with minor post-production work carried out within the Adobe suite including Photoshop and Illustrator. We use Revit across all projects within the office and viewed the competition as an opportunity to further expand our capability in house by modelling all elements including the more complex 3D geometry within the software. This allowed us to hold design reviews and engagement sessions with users in three dimensions ensuring these were fully inclusive as we often find some individuals can struggle with understanding 2D plan and section information.

Modelling all components in 3D has also allowed us to use our in-house 3D printers to prototype components of the design adding another dimension to the review process. We found that this greatly benefited dialogue allowing us to relocate and manoeuvre furniture and other items when discussing the arrangement with the team.

What advice would you have to contest participants on participating in this year’s awards?

We entered the competition with an open mind, collaborating with our partners at Motionspot, who are accessible design specialists, to ensure we took a holistic approach challenging the preconceptions of what accessible design is.

In the early stages of the competition process we often discussed the type of design solutions which weren’t necessarily born out of a direct desire to improve the quality of life for one particular need group, but those which benefitted people as a whole. We felt this ethos was appropriate to our own approach and wanted to create something that was not just about solving issues for those with accessibility needs; rather, the AllGo concept aims to improve the hotel experience for every customer, streamlining the experience in a beautiful and efficient environment. We believe this was and is crucial to the success of AllGo going forward, and whilst the competition should primarily focus on improving the hotel experience of those with access needs, good design should aim to help as many people as possible.

We also felt the focus group engagement sessions were critical in developing many of the concepts which ultimately inspired the AllGo scheme, and would encourage all new participants to embrace the exciting and rewarding process of user focussed collaborative design.

Q&A with Robin Sheppard

The chair of Bespoke Hotels discusses his ambitions for the competition

Robin Sheppard

Robin Sheppard

Robin Sheppard

Why are you holding a competition for ideas to revolutionise the quality of hotel experiences for disabled people?

The Disability Discrimination Act rewards competence, not excellence. We wanted to raise the level of joy in disabled rooms and negate the sense of punishment for being allocated a disabled room. It’s a personal cause to me, as a disabled hotelier. The reach for the competition seeks input from around the world as disability knows no national boundary. We want to use carrots to inspire not legislation to enforce. We seek inspiration in architecture but also design as all touch points affect the perception

What is your vision for the future of accessible hotel experiences?

We seek to remove the differentiation (eventually) so someone would seek an upgrade to a disabled room rather than perceive it as a downgrade. Visual and sensory delight is the aim, rather than a ‘hospitalisation’. The more sustainable the solution the better

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

The good, the bad and the ugly. Famous or infamous we don’t mind. We just want excellence.

Could architects make their names on these projects?

Yes Motion Spot and Ryder already have via last year’s competition and grown their business significantly

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

Since awarding the first-year main prize we have employed the winner on a new build hotel in Manchester, putting theory into practice.


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