Good Design: How do you measure it?

Logo of the Urban Design Conference.Good design means different things to different people, so how can you measure or evaluate it? As Trivess Moore says, “Poor design – an absence of ‘good’ design – locks in owners, the local community and cities to substandard urban environments, often for considerable time periods.” Moore believes that arguments for the value of good design are too easily dismissed because we lack a rigorous evidence base. Maybe this is one of the reasons the principles of universal design and notions of public good are ignored. An interesting argument in this paper to which the principles of universal design could be added. While written in 2014, it has relevance to the upcoming RIS on Accessible Housing.

The paper was published in 7th International Urban Design Conference 2014 and is titled, Valuing form and function: Perspectives from practitioners about the costs and benefits of good apartment design. It’s on page 73.

Abstract: Methods for placing values on good design are under-researched in Australia. Without a rigorous evidence base, costs are anticipated and benefits unrecognised. This paper presents an overview of the current state of the value of good design research for the built environment, and reports upon a series of interviews with experienced building industry stakeholders in Australia and the UK. The research finds that while the benefits of good design are recognised by building practitioners, these are not being consistently translated into exchange value and are therefore not being picked up in mainstreaming best practice. In order to raise the quality of design there is a need to develop ways to measure and articulate these benefits to housing producers and consumers.

Better home design reduces care hours

A bathroom has been stripped out and a few builders tools lay about on the floor. The bath is laying on its side.Home modifications can reduce the number of informal care hours people need by 47% and paid hours by 17%.  So why don’t we design homes for longevity in the first place? These findings are from a study by Phillippa Carnemolla, and there is more to this story. People felt more independent and enjoyed improved quality of life. This had a positive impact on their general health as well. There is more to discover in this paper and it supports the need for all new homes to have basic access features included. 

The title of the paper is, How Home Modifications Impact Ageing Well at Home: Supporting a Lasting Housing Legacy. It was published in Proceedings of the 5th International Conference for Universal Design in Fukushima & Tokyo 2014. Hence the reference in the Abstract to the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Games. Here is her Three Minute Thesis video giving the bottom line.

Abstract: A lasting legacy of all Olympic and Commonwealth games is their athletes villages. This paper discusses the potential for home modifications to support the process of ageing well that builds on this housing legacy and as such points to the benefits to be gained from both wider uptake of universal design in housing plus attention to special adaptations as needed. In the context of Australia’s ageing population, ageing well can encompass a number of different housing and care models, however common to all of these is a drive to maintain quality of life levels. There is evidence to suggest that home modifications impact recipients in a number of overlapping ways, by increasing independence within the home, increasing social participation and enabling people to remain in their own homes for longer as they age. This paper refers to completed stage one findings (Levels 1, 2 and 3) of an ongoing research project investigating the value of home modifications. It uses a mixed method approach and thematic analysis of survey responses from home modification recipients (n=157). This research design enables the measurement of the impact of home modifications to housing and resulting changes to care giving needs. The survey results reveal a decrease in reported care hours needed following home modifications, a trend which is further supported by the thematic analysis. In conclusion, the research contributes to developing evidence that home modifications can have a measurable impact on the care needs of recipients and support the changing social needs of ageing populations in ageing well.

Dr Phillippa Carnemolla is a board member of CUDA. 


Older Australians: no plans to move

We expect to grow old, but because we don’t aspire to grow old, we rarely plan for it. “I’ll worry about it when the time comes” is a usual response. A new report from AHURI looks at the housing situation for older Australians and some previous research is confirmed.

Most respondents felt their current home would suit them as they grow older. Eliminating steps is obvious, but what about other features? Generally, older people would like to own a detached dwelling (69%) with three bedrooms (50%). Those in the 75+ group think that a two bedroom apartment is a good idea, probably because they can eliminate steps. Most importantly, they don’t want to be in the private rental market.

Older Australians are not planning ahead. If they are, they lack information on how to go about it, what to look for, and what their options are other than age-segregated housing. A significant proportion of respondents hadn’t thought about planning ahead for their living arrangements. 

Plenty of material in this report for anyone interested in housing and older people. Title of the report is, Older Australians and the housing aspirations gap. You can download the Executive Summary and the Full Report separately. 

Editors’s comment:  Although home owners said their homes would support them in later life, this might not be an objective view. With a desire to stay put, can we rely on their self-assessment when they have so much emotional and financial investment in their current home?To be sure that homes will suit people throughout their life, every home needs to be designed for the life course. We need all new homes to be fit for that purpose


Ageing in Place: Not there yet

A suburban house in UK showing before and after the ramp. The ramp makes several zig-zags up the front of the house. It looks ugly.What home modifications are needed most and how much are they needed? Mary Ann Jackson analysed 50 home modification reports in Victoria to get an answer. The homes visited were built before any advocacy for accessible housing began. Consequently they all had a doorsill or step at the front door and tight spaces. This was further complicated with a screen door. Meter boxes also intruded on entry space. Many of the fittings, such as taps and handles were poorly designed to suit ageing in place. Jackson advises that accessibility issues are endemic to Australia’s existing housing stock. This is a big problem when 39.5% of households include a person with disability. If it is too expensive for governments or individuals to finance the required renovations, we will need another approach. Let’s hope the Regulatory Impact Statement due next year supports accessible design in all new homes.

Architect and Planner Jackson says, “Cooperation, collaboration, and a clear recognition of the emotional, physical, and economic cost-benefit of ageing in place will be needed to rebuild Australia’s housing stock to better accommodate all inhabitants throughout life.” The title of the newsletter article is Ageing in place – are we there yet?  

The picture above is famous for its technical compliance, but not usability, and definitely not aesthetics.


The 100 year life

A graphic showing facades of different styles of free standing homes in lots of colours. They look like toy houses.People expect to grow old, but they don’t plan to grow old. Public policy has to do more than just capture people when they can no longer care for themselves. Even if people plan for their older age, there are policy and built barriers preventing the continuation of a “decent life”. And housing is a key barrier. The report, The 100-year life: the role of housing, planning and design, highlights the issues and provides recommendations. The report recommends an integrated approach to housing, planning and design to support people in later life. It stresses the importance of taking a universal design approach and co-production. Developers, planners and local authorities also have an important role to play. And of course, focusing on older people means that people of all ages are included. While this is a UK project, there are many aspects that apply to other countries including Australia.

The research was conducted jointly by Design Council, Centre for Ageing Better and Social Care Institute for Excellence. The report in PDF was published in June 2018. The report includes references and resources.  

See also the Colorado Lifelong Homes White Paper for a similar take on the issues of successful ageing in place.

“A decent life” as described by Amartya Sen

Downsizing? But where to?

An expanse of green lawn in a suburban back yard.Policy makers and researchers have looked at the issue of older home owners and downsizing a few times now. The picture still looks the same. Whether older Australians want to downsize or stay put, our housing stock is not fit for purpose. For those who want to stay put, their current home is unlikely to support them as they age. This is particularly difficult for renters. For those who are prepared to move, there is nothing suitable to move to – not if they are planning to stay put later on. 

The latest report, Keeping a roof over our heads, by Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has more detail about their recent survey outlined in an article in The Conversation, titled, Lack of housing choice frustrates would-be downsizers.

When it comes to house size, Bruce Judd and colleagues from UNSW found that retirees generally want three bedrooms for flexibility of lifestyle. Some for visiting family and looking after grandchildren. Others need room for hobbies or a study. Some couples sleep separately for health reasons. Typically, retirees spend more time at home now that they are not working, so space becomes even more important.  

What’s interesting in all the studies, it’s generally the size of the yard and house maintenance that needs downsizing, not the home. Those who say they don’t want to move, might consider the idea if there was a more suitable place in their current neighbourhood. And not age-segregated living. However, if industry had rolled out the Livable Housing Design Guidelines as promised, there would be more suitable choices available throughout our housing stock.

Housing Diversity Now Urgent

A row of flat front row homes in blue and white.Roberta Ryan writes in The Conversation that vested interests are continuing business as usual without reference to demographic and lifestyle changes within the population. They are actively resisting change and arguing against policies to deliver more diverse housing types. Ryan argues that governments need to challenge vested interests that want to keep the status quo. The title of the article is, People want and need more housing choice. It’s about time governments stood up to deliver it. While this article doesn’t mention universal design or accessibility, it is inherent in the argument that governments need to challenge, on all fronts, vested interests that lobby for the status quo to remain.

Ryan writes, ‘Indeed, three recent surveys showed city dwellers are looking for housing diversity, particularly smaller houses such as terraces and semi-detached dwellings, in inner and middle suburbs. This demand comes from downsizers as well as families. We are seeing a clear recognition of the shortage of this stock.

Housing Design for All?

Front cover of the dissertation.Environments that include older people include everyone else too. So it’s good to ask older people what works for them. The findings from a Helsinki study indicate that neighbourhood design, public transport and green environments influence mobility and social integration. Mainstream housing design is a key factor in supporting older people to stay within their communities.

The title of the dissertation by Ira Verma is, Housing Design for All? The challenges of ageing in urban planning and housing design – The case of Helsinki. The abstract summarises the findings well. 

From the abstract: The results indicate that the neighbourhood design, public transport network and proximity of green environments influence mobility and the sense of integration within a community. Moreover, the length of residency was related to the familiarity of the living environment, which gave residents a sense of security, and supported their activities of daily life. Furthermore, the results show that older residents preferred the local services that were the most accessible ones.

Comprehensive design and a versatile environment with various activities may promote Ageing in Place policies and enhance cross-generational social encounters. Moreover, many obstacles caused by reduced physical and sensory functioning capacities can be lessened by applying Universal Design of the built environment. Architects and urban planners have a major role in designing the city and ensuring that it does not exclude any resident groups. Mainstream housing developments with attention to a variety of resident groups will enhance living at home at old age. Moreover, frail people with high care needs should experience being part of community life. Collaboration with local service providers, schools, cafés and restaurants may enable to providing a variety of activities to the residents in sheltered housing.

Raising the bar on housing standards

Front cover of the report.Advocates in several countries have been lobbying for mandatory accessible housing standards for many years. At last Habinteg in the UK has succeeded in getting the topic on the government’s agenda

A forecast for accessible homes, is an important report covering all the key issues, ending with three key actions. The Habinteg report reveals a “huge postcode lottery in the planned supply of new accessible homes…”.  Therefore it is crucial to “set a national policy that will create a level playing field and more certainty for developers”. The report found that existing basic minimum standards as set out in Part M1 of the building code are insufficient. The planned development of accessible housing is set to fall short of previous official predictions. The report also has personal case studies to highlight the impact the lack of availability has on their lives. Mandatory standards within building regulations are needed because Part M1 is too basic. The shortage of housing with liveable access features, which are suitable for everyone, is now at a critical level.

Australia should watch this space while the Australian Building Codes Board considers the same issues regarding mandating accessibility in all new homes. The Regulatory Impact Statement for accessible housing is due out for comment early next year. The ABCB oversees the National Construction Code. Get an insight into the NCC and how it works from Sourceable article.

Demand for UD in housing is understated

Front cover of the reportThere aren’t enough homes to support ageing place, as many of us know. Researchers in South Dakota found lack of demand was overstated and that the role of terminology plays an important part in consumer perception. In their study, participants assessed the appropriateness of different situations using vignettes. Participants were also asked about the relevance of UD in everyday life, and whether UD sounded environmentally friendly, attractive, or expensive. 

The report has an executive summary and recommendations that follow other US studies in recommending visitability features (similar to Silver level of Livable Housing Guidelines). This is because the original concept of UD provides for an iterative process of continuous improvement and adaptation. “Therefore, any attempt for widespread implementation will likely be cumbersome and counterproductive”. 

The title of the report is, Housing Across the Lifespan:Consumer knowledge and preferences.  By Leacy E Brown, Jane Strommen and Susan Ray-Deggs.

Editor’s note: From a purist UD position I agree that regulation or a standard can be counterproductive. From a pragmatic position it needs regulation in housing because it is the only way to get cohesion of results across this fragmented industry.