LOLA Architecture’s Efforts to Design for All

(Photo by Jack Carter/Jackcarterimages)

Last year, the Parkdale Community Rink opened as the first accessible outdoor rink in Canada. This community gathering place in Calgary, Alberta was designed by LOLA Architecture, an architecture firm that seeks to create beautiful, and socially and environmentally conscious buildings to improve the built environment.

The rink opened to excitement in the community allowing even more members of the community, including the local sledge hockey team, to participate in one of the Province’s favourite past-times.

(Photo by Jack Carter/Jackcarterimages)

For once, accessibility wasn’t an afterthought. Erica Lowe, Founding Principal of LOLA Architecture, worked with consultants, including those with lived experience, to ensure the rink was as inclusive for people with physical disabilities as possible.

Erica Lowe, Founding Principal of LOLA Architecture

“We wanted to think about accessible design right from the beginning,” Lowe explained. “We wanted to have this expertise in office.”

Through her work with external consultants, including Darby Lee Young from Level Playing Field, Erica learned about the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility CertificationTM (RHFAC) program and, in partnership with Level Playing Field and Parkdale Community Rink Association, set out to ensure the rink met the program’s highest accessibility rating level: RHFAC Gold.

Encouraging learning within staff

Learning about RHFAC opened up the opportunity for Lowe to send employees to RHFAC Training, working to fulfill the goal of bringing accessibility expertise in house.

RHFAC Training teaches individuals how to use the RHFAC methodology to rate buildings on their level of meaningful access for people with mobility, vision and hearing disabilities. Upon successful completion and passing the subsequent RHFAC Professional exam, individuals will obtain their RHFAC Professional designation, qualifying them to conduct ratings for existing buildings and pre-construction plans. The training provides understanding of how to interpret accessibility in the built environment.

The LOLA Architecture team

“The bigger moves were already something we thought about. Having larger washrooms, seating available at all levels, accessible doorways, for example,” Lowe said. “The training was an opportunity to learn about the smaller things, such as a recessed soap dish in the shower, or armrests on benches.”

When Lowe brought the opportunity to take RHFAC Training up to her team, they were excited by the opportunity.

Learning to look at buildings through an intersectional lens

Stephanie Karpuk, Intern Architect at LOLA Architecture, was the first employee to take RHFAC Training. She will be finishing the course this spring before taking the RHFAC Professional exam, at which time two more employees are set to take the course.

Stephanie Karpuk, Intern Architect at LOLA Architecture

“The last few years I have done a lot of projects in the areas of women and children fleeing violence, and underserved populations,” Karpuk explained. “What drives me in these projects is making sure there is a space that everyone who needs to can access it effectively. My understanding was limited in terms of what was appropriate in these buildings, so I wanted to learn more.”

LOLA Architecture provided the opportunity for Karpuk to take the class through the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), and help her gain this knowledge that she could then bring to the firm as a whole.

“When enough staff go through the training, we can then provide an extra set of eyes across all projects,” Lowe explained. “It’s much more cost effective to think about access from the outset, rather than trying to retrofit later. It’s better for our clients and for us.”

Karpuk is excited by what the course has taught her so far and how it can improve her career.

“The biggest thing I learned was the consideration of individuals with hearing or vision loss. We learn so much as architects about mobility through building code, but the ability to take a step back and realize there’s so much more to it than that is so important,” Karpuk explained. “I now can look at buildings through these other lenses as well, and now, every day when I walk through a space, I start to see it.”

(Photo by Jack Carter/Jackcarterimages)

LOLA Architecture is encouraging their staff to learn more and providing opportunity for professional growth.

“I’m telling everybody to take the course,” Karpuk explained. “LOLA has been really great in allowing me to work towards achieving this designation and supporting me in the process. I think the inclusiveness focus translates not only to our projects but within the office culture.”

As both Karpuk and Lowe believe: “accessibility is when everyone can access a space, no matter what.”

To learn more about RHFAC Training and Tuition grants available visit

Thanks to funding from the Government of British Columbia and Government of Ontario, residents of B.C. and residents of Ontario are eligible for tuition grants, along with people of disabilities located anywhere in Canada. To learn more, visit

This project is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Sectorial Initiatives Program. The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.