I interviewed four wheelchair users who had recently built a home as part of my PhD research project. I was interested in the process and the interaction with house-building professionals. In coming newsletters I will feature the other three interviews. This week it is Mike’s Story. He tells how he engaged an architect because he had little confidence in a project home builder understanding what he wanted. However, this did not result in plain sailing.
Beth Tauke, Megan Basnak, and Sue Weidermann from the University at Buffalo presented their research on the incorporation or otherwise of universal design in architectural education at the 3rd International Conference on Design Education Researchers. The paper can be downloadedfrom ResearchGate.
Abstract: The World Health Organization estimates that over one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, have some form of disability. Despite changing demographics and an aging world population, it seems that architecture programs in U.S. universities have been slow to incorporate universal design (UD) into their curricula. In an effort to gain a better understanding of the current state of UD content in architecture curricula, researchers distributed an online survey to architectural educators and administrators in 120 U.S. institutions with accredited degree programs. The study, sponsored by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), consisted of qualitative and quantitative questions that sought information related to the understanding, attitudes, and incorporation of UD into each participant’s curriculum. Reponses were obtained from 463 participants representing 104 of the 120 surveyed schools. Quantitative analyses found relationships between perceived attitudes of administrators, faculty, and students and the effectiveness of UD components. Results also showed great variability across schools in terms of how, when (course level), and the degree to which UD aspects were incorporated into programs. Qualitative findings revealed valuable insight into potential ways to increase the relevancy of UD in architecture curricula.
Contrary to the rhetoric of developers, the bottom line of this research by Jack L Nasar and Julia Elmer, shows that “both homeowners and homebuyers preferred to buy houses with visitable features, thought they would sell faster, and rated each visitable feature as having favorable effects …” The full article, Homeowner and homebuyer impressions of visitable features, provides the methods and survey results of 96 homeowners and 106 homebuyers. It requires institutional access for the full paper, or it can be purchased. See Abstract below.
Background: Though visitable house features (32+″ wide doors; no-step or low slope entries; and a usable half- or full bathroom on the main floor) have benefits, many developers and builders oppose them because they believe homebuyers do not want them.
Objective: The present study sought to test the accuracy of developer and builder perceived barriers to including visitable features in new houses. Specifically, we tested the desirability of houses with and without such features to homeowners and homebuyers. We hypothesized that homeowners and homebuyers would prefer to buy homes with visitable features even if they believed such homes would cost more.
Methods: In a cross-sectional study, we surveyed 96 homeowners and 107 homebuyers in Ohio. For photos of nine matched pairs of visitable and non-visitable features, respondents assessed home would sell faster, which they preferred to buy, and which had an older inhabitant. They also rated effects of each visitable feature on qualities that might affect the marketability of the home, such as good design, aesthetics, appeal to young, appeal to old, ease of hosting visitors, and resale value.
Results: Both homeowners and homebuyers preferred to buy houses with visitable features, thought they would sell faster, and rated each visitable feature as having favorable effects on the qualities, even though they expected houses with visitable feature to cost more and to house an older person or a person with difficulty walking.
Conclusions: Contrary to developer and builder beliefs, homeowners and homebuyers may prefer houses with visitable features.
When talking about the costs of including basic access features in new homes, we should also discuss the cost of NOT including those features.
Download an academic article from the Journal of the American Planning Association, by Smith, Rayer and Smith (2008) that spells out the economic argument using economic methodologies. The key point is that conservatively, a new home built today with a minimum of four different households over its lifetime is 65% likely to have an occupant with a permanent disability. If we include visitors the likelihood rises to 91%. It is often forgotten that people with disability live in families – not alone. This is an open access article.
Architect Guy Luscombe recently returned from a study trip in Europe focusing on living arrangements for older people. His comprehensive report featuring case studies from Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and Netherlands, reveals eight key design features important to older people. He says, “The traditional ‘nursing home’ and ‘retirement village’ are not only outdated, they can actually foster separation and ‘otherness’, isolating people from their family, friends and interests. The aim of this project is to explore how architects can design better environments for older people that improve their enjoyment of life. It starts with rethinking some of our design language.” Many in the universal design movement would agree with this.
This is a major work by Bruce Judd, Diana Olsberg, Joanne Quinn and Oya Demirbilek (2010). It challenges the often held assumption that older people are “taking up space” in big houses that they no longer need – assumptions that their homes are “underoccupied”. This qualitative research shows a very different picture. When people retire, they typically spend more time at home (about 85% of their time), so it makes sense to have “spare” space for home activities, including accommodating family members who live away.
Edited transcript from live captioning of Margaret Ward’s presentation at the Australian Universal Design Conference 2014.
Synopsis: While major industry players support the Livable Housing Design Guidelines, their implementation in mass market housing is not yet evident. This presentation takes the perspective of the Australian Network for Universal Housing Design and plots the history from the setting up of the National Dialogue for Universal Housing Design, to the development of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines, and the achievements to date of Livable Housing Australia. It asks the question – what more can be done to progress universal housing design in Australia?
Edited transcript from live captioning of Kay Saville-Smith’skeynote presentation at the Australian Universal Design Conference 2014.
Synopsis: The Christchurch earthquakes which flattened much of the city provided an opportunity to start from scratch and implement some of the good design ideas, including universal design, that have been around for some time. However, this has not happened and there are many reasons for this, not least of which is the stance of the insurance industry. The issue of affordability is a complex one, as it is a market driven issue where the actual cost of the building is not the main issue. Universal design and affordability can co-exist, but there are many attitudinal barriers and well-worn arguments touted in the industry that say it cannot be done.
Article by Margaret Ward and Jill Franz, published in Housing and Space: Toward Socio-Spatial Inclusion (Social Inclusion, Vol 3 No2). An Open Access Journal.
This article outlines the findings from interviews with industry personnel about incorporating the 8 features agreed in the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. This is a telling paragraph: “In summary, when providing the eight features for visitability, the interviewees identified two themes for non-compliance (“lack of thought” and “otherness”) and three themes for compliance (“fashion”, “requirement’ and “good practice”). Although all dwellings provided some features, no dwelling provided a coherent path of travel necessary to make a dwelling visitable. Some examples of this incoherence were: a step-free driveway which led to a step at the door; a wide front door which led to a narrow corridor; and a narrow internal doorway which did not allow entry of a wheel-chair to a spacious bathroom. The provision of these access features separately and severally did not provide visitability as an outcome in any of the dwellings.
This academic paper and presentation was made at the 2011 State of Australian Cities Conference (SOAC) in 2011 by Jane Bringolf. It raises the issues of housing an ageing population in a context of industry considering retirement villages and aged care are the places to put older people. However, the majority of people will age in their current home – a home that is not suitably designed for this purpose. However, some 150,000 new homes are built each year – still to the same old cookie cutter method – and there is no sign of change even in 2015.