Flexibility and adaptability in housing design

a blue glowing house icon is held in the handsThe house is an eco-system, not just a building. This is what Hassan Estaji proposes in  A Review of Flexibility and Adaptability in Housing Design. The author discusses terminology, some history, and different approaches taken by various architects over time. “House as an eco-system consists of three main parts: Environment, users and system (building).” The article concludes with a useful table of definitions of flexibility and adaptability (accessibility and universal design) in housing design from across the globe. 

From the abstract: “This paper presents a comprehensive review of all significant research about flexibility and adaptability in architecture with particular focus on housing design. A summary of different
definitions from different points of view is given. A matrix compares these definitions from social, economical and environmental aspects. In the analysis part, strengths, weaknesses and limitations of each study are compared with other researches.”

The article is featured in the International Journal of Contemporary Architecture ”The New ARCH“ Vol. 4, No. 2 (2017)


Accessible housing: costs and gains

A man in a bright yellow T shirt is painting and archway in a wall inside a home. The wall is grey and there are tools on the floor.The need for all new homes to have basic universal design features will continue to increase as the population ages. The costs of modifying and renovating homes to facilitate ageing in place are borne by both governments (that is, taxpayers) and homeowners. However, we are yet to have a policy to make these cost-efficient features mandatory in mass market housing. Evaluating the costs and gains of modifying homes is the subject of a new article from Europe, Improved Housing Accessibility for Older People in Sweden and Germany: Short Term Cost and Long -Term Gains.

This is a technical paper showing the detail of the methodology, the results and a discussion section where the authors claim, “Even if the costs for the new policy of barrier removal are large it should be kept in mind that these are one-time costs, while costs for home services are likely to be repeated over time and potentially increase with deteriorating health.” They add that the initial cost for the new policy would have paid off after one year in Sweden and two and a half years in Germany. It would be interesting to know if similar modelling has been done in Australia. The costs could be offset, of course, over time, by introducing accessible housing in all new housing stock where modifications were few or unnecessary. We build at least 200,000 homes a year – that’s 2 million over ten years.

This article by Slaug, Chiatti, Oswald, Kaspar and Schmidt was originally downloaded from ResearchGate.


Urban renewal and healthy ageing

Aerial view of high rise buildings in Hong KongNew urban developments are often discussed, but what about urban renewal projects?  Yung and Chan sought to find out more about the impact of urban renewal on older people who make up the majority of residents in established communities in Hong Kong. Their paper is a literature review in preparation for their study on healthy ageing and quality urban planning. 

Many large cities are facing similar issues – older districts house older and more marginalised residents. However, “… the urban renewal projects are often beset with social problems such as destruction of existing social networks, expulsion of vulnerable groups and adverse impacts on living environments. In response to the aging needs, it is recognized that the elders affected should provide with rehousing arrangement in the same district so that they could stay in their familiar community and maintain their social network. It is believed that urban renewal should play a vital role to support the other policy instruments to sustain healthy aging. In broad view, a much broader policy framework for the overall urban design in tackling the needs of the elderly in urban renewal projects is urgently needed”. Public housing renewal in Australia is grappling with this issue too.


Ups and downs of apartments

facade of an apartment building showing long balconiesResearchers at UNSW City Futures discuss issues around housing for lower-income and vulnerable groups on their blog. “Some things about apartment and townhouse living are fundamentally different to living in a house. These differences have particular impacts on lower-income and vulnerable people living in higher-density housing. The significant differences include:

  • You live closer to your neighbours, so it’s more likely you’ll see, hear or meet them.
  • You share services and spaces with neighbours, from gardens to laundries to lifts.
  • You have to co-operate with other residents and owners to manage and pay for building operation and upkeep.

And yes, housing quality and building flaws do matter wherever you live, but they affect some residents in particular: “The design issues include noise disturbances as a result of poor design, inadequate solar access and cross ventilation, the availability and flexibility of shared spaces, and safety and security considerations. Another issue is design that fails to help meet the needs of particular groups (such as people with a disability, and families with children)”. It seems people with less money get a poorer product in this market-led housing model.

The article has linked to other research papers that might be of interest.

The article on the UNSW City Future Blog was written by Hazel Easthope, Laura Crommelin, and Laurence Troy.


Housing Quality: Can UD boost it?

A large free standing home in the last stages of being builtIt seems that when the Norwegian housing industry is called upon to build more homes faster and more cheaply, they ask for accessibility requirements to be “relaxed”. This is while the overall quality of the homes is dropping in this market driven environment. Norwegian building regulations have gone further than most other countries in applying universal design across planning and building codes and policies, even if the actual response has been patchy. In the abstract of Universal Design as a Booster for Housing Quality and Architectural Practice, the author, Karine Denizou states, “Many architects understand guidelines as minimum requirements, and are thus reproducing the identical solutions without considering the context and the needs of the users. They see accessibility as another regulatory pressure and requirements as restrictions rather than positive incentives. However, there are examples of designers who have internalised the regulatory framework and thus are able to create and integrate inclusive design in their daily work.”

Editor’s note: It is disappointing to see that in spite of many years of advocacy and support by the central government (since 1999), the home-building industry in Norway is still stuck in old ways. Denizou’s paper is comprehensive with examples, discussion and conclusions. With the push for regulation for accessible housing in Australia, it is a cautionary tale. This paper indicates that regulation alone will not achieve the desired outcomes.


Lifetime Homes: A critical review

Logo of lifetime homes in purple Home building standards in the UK have mandated basic access features in all new homes since 1999 (Part M of the building code). More recently there has been a move to improve on this with a new standard, Lifetime Homes. This is because the original Part M* requirements only allow for visitability and not liveability. With an ageing population it has become apparent that a higher level of accessibility is needed if people are to remain independent in their own homes. The 2013 review by Hadjri and Craig,  Assessing Lifetime Homes Standards and Part M Building Regulations for Housing Design in the UK, provides some parallels to the issues we experience in Australia and the current voluntary implementation of accessible housing in Australia. 

Extract from the abstract: “The aims of this article are to examine Lifetime Home Standards (LTHS) and Part M of the UK Building Regulations and to discuss how relevant and successful they are. The UK government expects all new homes to be built to LTHS by 2013. This is increasingly important with an ageing population. The home environment can enable independence and provide a therapeutic place for everyone. … This review suggests that the standards should be improved and that designers and architects face challenges to creatively incorporate them into housing design.”

Note: The Australian Network for Universal Housing Design advocates for Gold Level of the Livable Housing Australia Guidelines, which allows for ageing in place and future adaptations for people with increased disability. Margaret Ward, Convener of ANUHD, recently attended a hearing of the inquiry into outcomes of the National Disability Strategy and spoke about the issues in Australian housing and why regulation is needed.

*You can read more about the updated Part M (2016) and the three conditions from the UK Architects’ Journal, and you can download the UK Government document about dwellings (Category 1: Visitable, Category 2: Accessible and adaptable, and Category 3: Wheelchair user dwellings). Only category one is mandated for all new dwellings, the other categories are “optional requirements” and can be called up by a planning authority.


Housing features to suit neurological conditions

shows roof tops of a development in a greenfield area. Photo taken from the top of a hill looking downA new study from Griffith University looks at the issues of inclusive housing and neighbourhood design and the features required to include people with higher health care needs. The title is, What housing features should inform the development of housing solutions for adults with neurological disability?: A systematic review of the literature.  

Abstract: Despite the recent emphasis in Australian political, academic, and legislative narratives to more actively promote real housing choice for people with high healthcare and support needs, there is a lack of understanding regarding the specific housing features that might constitute better housing solutions for this population. Inclusive housing provision in Australia rightly emphasises safety and accessibility issues but often fails to incorporate factors related to broader psychosocial elements of housing such as dwelling location, neighbourhood quality, and overall design. While the importance of these broader elements appears obvious, it is not yet clear what specific housing features relate to these elements and how they might contribute to housing solutions for people with high healthcare and support needs. For individuals with complex neurological conditions such as brain injury or cerebral palsy, who require maximum support on a daily basis yet want to live independently and away from a primary care hospital or health facility, a more detailed understanding of the housing features that might influence design and development is needed. Thus, in order to clarify the broader factors related to housing solutions for this population, a systematic review was conducted to identify and synthesise the current research evidence (post-2003) and guide future housing design and development opportunities.

You can also access this article through Research Gate