Designs for autonomy in later life

UD followers with an interest in housing design might find interesting “Adaptive environments for enabling senior citizens: An holistic assessment tool for housing design and IoT-based technologies”. The study asks the question, “Could houses and appliances have the potential to improve autonomy and quality of life of citizens?” The approach combines the design features of the dwelling with some basic assistive technologies to see how they can improve the autonomy of older people living at home. The research aims to support the creation of a new standard for housing in the European context. You will need institutional access for a free view, or you can  purchase it for a small fee. The authors are  based in Ireland and Italy.

Abstract: The population of older adults will continuously increase over the coming decades. As they get older, people will require assistance and regular monitoring, with higher costs for welfare system and families. Two vital aspects of a healthy lifestyle, are domestic autonomy and maintenance of relationships within the neighborhood. This leads to an interesting research issue: “Could houses and appliances have the potential to improve autonomy and quality of life of citizens? Which methods and tools could enhance wellbeing and healthy conditions? The house has the potential to be a safe, adaptive environment, integrated with technologies for life support. This work seeks to investigate the key implications of architectural accessibility, interior Design features and interactive technologies, related to User Experience Design. The proposed Design approach called “Environment Design to Sustain Users” is based on a scenario composed of two empirical strategies. The reported research aims to support the creation of a new standard of houses in which people can live in a healthy way, enjoying the opportunities of ICT, which shall be “enabling” and integrated in an unobtrusive way so as to be accepted by the user.

Architecture students’ attitudes to UD

architecture blueprint with rule and pencilThe attitudes of architecture students to universal design is the focus of a Deakin University study. It builds on previous work (Design 4 Diversity) in 2010 on inter-professional learning for architecture and occupational therapy students. The findings of this latest study show that while architecture students viewed access to public environments favourably, there was a mixed response in relation to private homes.

Reasons not to include universal design features in homes included cost, client desires and restrictions on creativity. For example, “Over-designing for the sake of making the residence accessible in the future, just in case, is an unnecessary cost”; “Private homes should be designed to the individual”; and “Legislation restricts design, resulting in negative impacts the ‘requirements’ did not intend”. (Ed Note: These phrases have been used many times by practicing architects and designers as followers of UD are aware.)

The study used a quantitative approach and applied statistical techniques to the data. The first part of the document covers the history of universal design (as all such studies do) and there is an extended section on methods and statistics. For followers of UD, the Discussion section might be of most interest. 

The authors of Students’ Attitudes to Universal Design in Architecture Education, are Helen Larkin, Kelsey Dell, and Danielle Hitch. It was published in the Journal of Social Inclusion, 2016.

See also previous work by Larkin et al, on this topic, and the 2016 UD Conference presentation by Nicholas Loder and Lisa Stafford, “Moving from the Margins: Embedding inclusive thinking in design education” 


Universal Design in Housing: Are we there yet?

aerial view of a big city with skyscrapersThe short answer to this is no. We are nowhere near the promises made in the strategic plan that Livable Housing Australia was set up to deliver in 2010. This is because policy makers believed that the house-building industry could work together for change without regulations and standards. As the strategic plan was endorsed by COAG (Council of Australian Governments), it was assumed it would happen. Six years on and we have the NDIS, an ageing population and still no accessible housing aside from that which some local governments might demand from developers using existing planning laws.

The Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) has kept up their lobbying activities. Suggestions to turn the Livable Housing Design Guidelines into an Australian Standard to help local government apply the design features have been refused. Appeals to the Australian Building Codes Board to include basic access features in all new housing have met with the same response.

And now we have the Specialist Disability Accommodation program being rolled out to the tune of $700m a year. Is the house-building industry pricking up their ears now perhaps? Will the relevant State ministers with responsibility for the building code in their state start to realise something has to change? ANUHD is following the case closely and should know more after the relevant state ministers meet this week. It seems several State ministers are in favour of regulation for accessible housing “in principle”, but we shall see if this translates into anything more concrete.

Livable Housing Australia’s strategic plan sets out the path to achieve 100% of new homes to the Livable Housing Guidelines by 2020. It is worth being reminded that this was not supposed to be just a nice idea – it was supposed to happen for two reasons. To meet our commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability, and to prepare for population ageing. Margaret Ward tells the story from ANUHD’s perspective


UD in Australian Housing: The story so far

new home construction site with timber on the groundWith the announcement of Specialist Disability Accommodation funding, the state of housing design is once again being discussed. This funding is aimed towards individuals as part of the NDIS program to ensure participants have appropriate accommodation. The funding program will not in itself have any effect on changing mainstream practices. But with a large pool of money up for grabs, the housing industry is surely taking notice. Will this make a difference to their mainstream practices? On past behaviours, the answer is probably no. But governments are reluctant to impose regulations in spite of market failure to realise industry’s promise to deliver accessible mainstream housing in all new developments.

marg-ward-pptIn her presentation to the 2nd Australian Universal Design Conference, Margaret Ward gave an overview of all the lobbying  the Australian Network for Universal Housing Design has done over seven years. For anyone who doesn’t know the full story, or has little context for the advent of Livable Housing Design Guidelines, the transcript of Margaret’s presentation tells the full story.

On page 11 of the NIDS Price Guide the four different standards expected for the money are listed in a matrix: Improved Livability; Fully Accessible, Robust, and High Physical Support. Probably more meaningful labelling than Silver Gold and Platinum.


R&D incentives for UD in housing: Norwegian experience

Drawing of a new development showing lots of apartment buildings with a park in the middleMaking small changes to housing design to create greater accessibility seems too difficult for the house building industry in spite of the many guidelines explaining what’s required. In Australia, marketing ploys using the “tick of approval” method to advance such changes have only appeared on select properties – mostly those through government procurement. What would happen if there were financial incentives instead of costs to have a home recognised as accessible or universally designed? This is the topic of an article from Norway which argues that grants can be a driving force for innovation in universal design and that this requires the collaboration of several different stakeholders. The research was funded by the Norwegian State Housing Bank.

Given that the house building industry in Australia is a fragmented system where there is a reliance on regulations, rules, and protocols to hold it together, this research is timely as it recognises that collaboration is essential to innovation and improvements in design quality. 

View of a Norwegian waterfront with housing and the Aurora Borealis The article, Grant as a Driving Force for Innovation in Universal Design is by Tina Therese Larsen and Torben Blindheim from the Norwegian State Housing Bank, Norway.

The picture above is Pilestredet park development and the lower picture is a general waterfront scene in Norway showing the Aurora Borealis.



UD as a driver of housing quality

Big houses are still being built without accessibility in mindHousing quality and architectural practice are under scrutiny in building and infrastructure management in Norway, which claims to lead the way on universal design. Although there have been fundamental changes in the building code and regulations, it seems that none of this has guaranteed improvements in quality on the usability of homes. This is in spite of going further than most other countries in the direction of performance requirements. Perhaps the reliance on regulations was misplaced in terms of creating quality. The authors of this article conclude that architects, more than any other group in the construction industry are trained to break conventional frameworks. How the regulations are applied by the user is the key to success – this is where the education of architects and building designers comes in. Architects are often willing to innovate, the authors claim. “One chief intention of the building code is to promote universal design in the built environment. It seems that the appending regulations may not follow up the intention as it could be expected. Amendments are probably needed and should be based on a broader view on the design process.”

It seems we could learn from this experience – regulations are one thing, but applying them appropriately and for maximum effect is another.


Energy Efficiency and UD in home renovations

Roof of a house covered in solar panelsThis article argues that energy efficiency and universal design in housing are largely incompatible because the former has an engineering approach whereas the latter has a sociological approach. The authors view energy efficiency as a product (a noun) and universal design as a process (a verb) and infer that this is a problem because one has measurable outcomes (energy efficiency) and the other has not (universal design). The article is useful inasmuch as it puts energy efficiency and universal design into the same sentence. The article has some interesting and explanatory graphs and comparisons that are worth a look. 

Abstract: Policy and societal objectives indicate a large need for housing renovations that both accommodate lifelong living and significantly increase energy efficiency. However, these two areas of research are not yet examined in conjunction and this paper hypothesizes this as a missed opportunity to create better renovation concepts. The paper outlines a comparative review on research in Energy Efficiency and Universal Design in order to find the similarities and differences in both depth and breadth of knowledge. Scientific literature in the two fields reveals a disparate depth of knowledge in areas of theory, research approach, and degree of implementation in society. Universal Design and Energy Efficiency are part of a trajectory of expanding scope towards greater sustainability and, although social urgency has been a driver of the research intensity and approach in both fields, in energy efficiency there is an engineering, problem solving approach while Universal Design has a more sociological, user-focused one. These different approaches are reflected in the way home owners in Energy Efficiency research are viewed as consumers and decision makers whose drivers are studied, while Universal Design treats home owners as informants in the design process and studies their needs. There is an inherent difficulty in directly merging Universal Design and Energy Efficiency at a conceptual level because Energy Efficiency is understood as a set of measures, i.e. a product, while Universal Design is part of a (design) process. The conceptual difference is apparent in their implementation as well. Internationally energy efficiency in housing has been largely imposed through legislation, while legislation directly mandating Universal Design is either non-existent or it has an explicit focus on accessibility. However, Energy Efficiency and Universal Design can be complementary concepts and, even though it is more complex than expected, the combination offers possibilities to advance knowledge in both fields. 

Article by Ermal Kapedani, Jasmien Herssens and Griet Verbeeck. Faculty of Architecture and Art, Hasselt University, Belgium.