Universal Design, Affordability and Cost in housing

Head and shoulders pic of Kay Saville-Smith
Kay Saville-Smith

At a roundtable meeting following the 2014 Universal Design Conference in Sydney, Kay Saville-Smith  shared her experience on universal design and affordability.  She was happy to share her five key points about universal design in housing: 

“The usual argument is that universal design is consistently unaffordable (by which they mean more costly) than poor design because of the difficulties of retrofitting the existing environment and lack of economies of scale. Actually, the reasons why universal design is seen as costly and can add cost. Five points are interesting: 

  1. Most products are not designed but driven off existing tools, processes and organisational  structures. To change these does require some investment (hump costs) but these are one off and should not be seen as an ongoing cost. Indeed, those changes can bring reduced costs in the long term through increased productivity etc.
  2. The costs of poor design are externalised onto households, other sectors or hidden unmet need.
  3. Comes out of an advocacy approach that pitches the needs of one group against another and treats universal design as special design etc.
  4. Win-win solutions need to be built with the industry participants that are hungry for share not dominant players who have incentives to retain the status quo.
  5. UD is different from design which is fashion based. The trick is to make UD fashionable so no one would be seen dead without it.”