Vale Wendy Lovelace, 6 October 1963 – 1 May 2022

In her decades of hard work and advocacy in creating an inclusive and accessible world, Wendy never lost sight of architecture’s potential for poetry – as she said recently to a group of students, our role as architects is to ‘create a path of delight for all’.

Wendy Lovelace was a woman who experienced life richly and loved living in her own home surrounded by all that brought her joy. Passionate about architecture’s power to transform the world we inhabit, Wendy insisted that an enhanced experience of our world should be accessible and inclusive for all.

When Wendy was diagnosed with MS in the 1990s, she was a recent architectural graduate enjoying a rich working, social and cultural life in Brisbane. An architect practising in public and residential architecture, Wendy now faced a future using a wheelchair. This gave her a heightened personal awareness that the designers of her home, local community and the city had failed to design for everyone. Wendy’s life took on a dramatic new purpose: to ensure that she and others could continue to live the life they loved. Through her resolute pursuit of this goal, Wendy inspired, educated and influenced.

In her professional life, Wendy combined her architectural skill and lived experience as an architectural access consultant and advocate, contributing to a long list of organisations and projects.

In her personal life, Wendy directed her skills to finding an accessible and inclusive home. This was a formidable task in the early 2000s, with scarce accessible housing available. However, in 2005 Wendy found her home: an ordinary two-bedroom ground floor unit she could modify to suit her needs, a short walk from Bulimba’s ‘village-like’ main street and its safe pathway to the Bulimba ferry and accessible citycat network.

As Wendy lived her very busy life in Bulimba and beyond, she gently educated everyone she encountered about what it meant to be truly equitable and inclusive – in cafes, businesses, public spaces and on public transport. She won over many with her practical solutions, powers of persuasion and considerable charm. Wendy joined the bookclub at the new accessible bookshop. Here, through her passionate love of books and the power of words, Wendy formed friendships with women from many different paths of life, including myself.

Wendy with friends at her 58th birthday lunch.

I discovered that Wendy was a fountain of knowledge about accessible design. She had advocated for the Liveable Housing Design Guidelines, which informed the newly established NDIS’s design standard for Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA), and had served on the NDIA’s SDA reference panel. For a residential architect like myself, the guidelines were invaluable. However, they lacked regulatory clout. Over the next decade, I watched on in awe as Wendy, alongside her colleagues at Queensland Action for Universal Housing Design, the Australian Network for Universal Housing Design, MS Queensland and Queenslanders with a Disability Network, tirelessly advocated for the incorporation of these guidelines into the National Construction Code. It was a long and arduous political process, vehemently opposed by many within and outside the construction industry. I have never seen Wendy so excited as the day she announced that the Queensland Government had agreed to support the inclusion of Livable Housing Design in the NCC 2022. A week after Wendy’s death the ABCB released the NCC 2022 preview including livable housing design requirements based on the Livable Housing Design Guidelines.

When Bulimba’s accessible bookshop closed, Wendy welcomed our bookclub into her home. Wendy’s home was a reflection of Wendy – delightfully welcoming, full of books, art and curios, along with many modifications made to accommodate her needs. We were all shocked when, in 2013, whilst Wendy continued to advocate for accessible inclusive housing for all, Wendy’s deteriorating health required her to move out of her beloved home.

Wendy moved to Youngcare at Sinnamon Park. Though this provided safe accommodation in a well-designed shared unit with communal areas designed to create a sense of community, it was located in an outer suburb designed around car usage, far from any ‘village-like’ community and the city, with unreliable public transport. For Wendy, staying connected to her wider community of work, family, friends and the cultural life of the city became significantly harder, having to rely upon long expensive taxi journeys and her devoted elderly parents for transport.

Wendy continued her advocacy, including playing a major role in the successful public campaign to hold the Queensland Government to account for the procurement of a new fleet of inaccessible NGR trains. Wendy advocated in the media, threatened to obtain a Federal Court injunction and wrote a submission to the Human Rights Commission urging their rejection of the Queensland Government’s application for a temporary exemption from the Disability Discrimination Act. Ultimately, the government accepted their responsibility to make the NGR trains accessible, and Wendy switched from antagonist to protagonist, working as an advisor with the government on a retrofit project to ensure that these trains were not only technically compliant with accessibility legislation, but functionally accessible for as many people as possible. Wendy continued to advise the government across various transport projects, improving accessibility outcomes for all users of public transport.

Wendy persisted living her busy life of work, cultural pursuits and socialising with family and friends. As we sought a suitable venue for bookclub, we all became intensely aware that the only accessible parts of our homes were either accessed through our garages or in our garages. The irony that far greater expense had been made to accommodate our cars than our friend was not lost on any of us. This, along with our need to consider the accessibility of every restaurant and event we attended educated us all about inclusive design.

In 2020, due to Wendy’s determination, the NDIS and the availability of new housing types (significantly informed by the Livable Housing Design Guidelines), Wendy was finally able to live in a home of her own choosing and surround herself with all that brought her joy. Wendy’s new home was one of several apartments peppered throughout a large private residential apartment complex in inner city Woollongabba. Each apartment was designed to achieve Platinum level under the Livable Housing Design Guidelines and meet the NDIS High Physical Support SDA design standard. Wendy’s home was no longer isolated from the life of the city she loved. She could hang out at her local gin bar, host bookclub on the roof terrace, travel easily to Brisbane’s cultural precincts and enjoy her balcony view of the city below, spectacular skies and the moon rising in the east.

Wendy worked tirelessly to educate us all so that everyone could have the joy of living in their own home. I am so happy that at the end of Wendy’s too short life, she had achieved this for herself as well.

In her decades of hard work and advocacy in creating an inclusive and accessible world, Wendy never lost sight of architecture’s potential for poetry – as she said recently to a group of students, our role as architects is to ‘create a path of delight for all’.

Katherine Gifford is principal of Katherine Gifford Architecture and senior architect at Jeremy Salmon Architect in Brisbane.