Upgrading existing buildings

Front cover of the handbook with a purple background and pictures of buildings in a narrow band across the front.The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) has produced a new handbook, Upgrading Existing Buildings Handbook. The Preface introduces the document as “one of a series produced by the ABCB … in response to comments and concerns expressed by government, industry and the community that relate to the built environment…on areas of existing regulation or relate to topics which have, for a variety of reasons, been deemed inappropriate for regulation. The aim of the Handbooks is to provide construction industry participants with non-mandatory advice and guidance on specific topics, specifically, buildings classified as Class 2 to 9 in Part A3 of NCC, Volume One”. This is a 47 page document.

Importantly, this handbook outlines a five-step process for scoping proposed new work in existing buildings, with a very strong emphasis at step four to determine whether potential deficiencies are actual deficiencies – i.e. the building does not meet a performance requirement of the National Construction Code. The takeaway message is that Performance Solutions may be the only practical solution to address actual deficiencies, and this is where a Universal Design approach will be most beneficial.


What’s homelessness got to do with design?

a man stands in front of a wall covered in bright coloured post it notes which have different ideas and actionsUser-led design is one of the central tenets of universal design. Adur and Worthing Council in the UK needed to address issues of rough sleeping and general anti social behaviour which was costing local businesses. They needed something more cost effective than enforcement. The Design Council, a charitable organisation, came to the rescue. Using co-design methods they involved all stakeholders to “think like designers”. Through the process they were able to identify opportunities to improve challenging situations. One of the many ideas generated was to set up a market stall in Worthing town centre where seven or eight rough sleepers were invited to volunteer to run the stall, source goods and test different types of products to sell. The stall changed relationships and perceptions from antagonistic to positive. You can read more on this interesting and award winning project by going to the Design Council website. The methods used are being replicated elsewhere.


Get me out of here!

Green emergency egress signs showing running figure and wheelchair figureEmergency evacuations are tricky at the best of times, but when you find steps and stairs difficult or just impossible, what do you do? According to Lee Wilson in Sourceable magazine, Australian building legislation has generally steered clear of promoting the use of refuge areas in commercial buildings. The preferred method of evacuation for people with mobility difficulties is a fire rated evacuation lift. However, this is a costly solution and therefore not widely adopted. But the refuge area hasn’t been properly adopted either. Read Lee Wilson’s article for the Australian regulatory situation, and how Australia fares with other nations and their accessible means of access. Also go to the link at the end of the article about individual workplace PEEPs (Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans). They play an essential role in emergency situations.

Photo credit to Loughborough University  


UD: designing for human needs

Graphic of Maslow's hierarchy of needs showing how all people are considered at the bottom two tiers, but only some at the top tiersThe Center for Health Design has published an article that advocates for age-friendly workplaces, person-centred healthcare, ageing in place and active living. Central to the argument in their report is the application of universal design. “When designing for aging, there are great opportunities at hand to design for ourselves – for every age – for all.” And as a reminder that an ageing population is not all about Baby Boomers, it reminds us that in 2046 the oldest Millennials will be turning 65.

The Maslow hierarchy of needs (as shown in the diagram) makes an appearance with the claim that designers think about the lower tiers for the young and old and reserve the upper tiers for young and middle aged adults. But why can’t environments support social system, fun, happiness, and inspiration at the same time as being safe?

Universal design is discussed as sustainable design, the triple bottom line, ageing in place, the workplace, and healthcare.  The report ends with “…universal design has the potential to bridge the gap between basic human rights and higher human needs – for everyone.” You can download the pdf, Universal Design: Designing for Human Needs – An issue brief on the impact of ageing.

You can visit the Health Design website for more topics and information.



No Place to Grow Old

WHO age friendly logo of 8 petals showing the 8 domains of lifeCanada was at the forefront of the development of the WHO Age Friendly Cities program in 2006. But that hasn’t been enough to overcome entrenched planning and development processes. A recently published study, No Place to Grow Old: How Canadian Suburbs Can Become Age-Friendly, found that although planners and others have concerns about an ageing population, their thinking hasn’t adapted. Older people are still thought of as a separate group similarly to people with disability. Consequently, little has changed in the last ten years.

The survey found that a “number of cities express the need to accommodate the housing requirements of their growing populations of seniors or to support aging in place. References to “supportive seniors’ housing” and “senior citizens’ facilities,” however, position seniors as a special-needs group, like people with disabilities, rather than establishing the basis for substantive policy solutions.” The report makes some useful recommendations and the findings are applicable to any urban area in any location.

You can find a list of Australian cities or communities that are members of the WHO Global Network of Age Friendly Cities by going to this link and choosing Australia in the search function on the right hand side of the page. You can also find out your community can become a member of the Global Network.

The graphic above depicts the 8 domains of life that need to be considered in making a community age-friendly: Housing, Transportation, Social Participation, Respect and Social Inclusion, Outdoor Spaces and Buildings, Community Support and Health Services, Communication and Information, and Civic Participation and Employment. An argument was made at the International Federation of Ageing Conference in 2016 that housing should be in the centre of the the petals as it is the central part of everyone’s life.


The Access Symbol: time for a revision?

The access symbol, often called the “disabled” or “wheelchair” symbol is one of the most recognised in the world. However, this icon is often interpreted as indicating use by wheelchair users only. Given that only some 15% of all people with disability use wheelchairs, this sign can be misleading and confusing. The TED Ed video below explains the history of the design, some of the issues in use, and puts out a call for action for updating the symbol.

Editor’s Note: Confusion exists on whether non-wheelchair users can use a “disabled” facility, such as a toilet. Some think that accessible toilets must be reserved for wheelchair users. But someone who is ambulant may need assistance with toiletting. A regular cubicle cannot accommodate two people and besides, may they not be of the same gender. Parents with strollers and small children, and people with continence issues, also need to use these facilities. Accessible car parking is another matter and that is why a permit is required. A factor that annoys some people is the accessible toilet being used for “other” purposes. These “other” purposes can also be done in a regular toilet. My view is that I only care that they don’t take too long, and leave the place clean. It matters not what they are doing. What matters is that everyone benefits from more useable and convenient facilities – I think it would be a rare case for a person to think a ramp is only for wheelchair users.


Human Centred Design: creating the mindset

A black woman stands in front of a yellow backdrop with the DEVEX logo. She is holding a blue sheet with the words One HumanityListening to what the intended users might want in any kind of design makes sense in any context, but is essential when taking aid programs to developing countries. Dreaming up a great idea in a Western boardroom is not the way to go when thinking global development says Devex representative, Catherine Chaney. Devex is a media platform for the global development industry. Human Centred Design is not a new idea. The Institute for Human Centered Design based in Boston has a long history of promoting this process worldwide. The CEO, Valerie Fletcher recently spoke at Auckland Conversations about this. But it requires a change in thinking – a change in the mindset of designers. Catherine Chaney writes on How to Develop a Human Centered-Design Mindset using examples from several developing countries and links to other documents. Videos of local people and others are included in this article and should make us wonder why designers in (so-called) developed nations are not picking up on this. At least the front cover of the DFAT Guideliens for aid programsAustralian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has published a guide to universal design for organisations undertaking aid programs overseas. Internationally, at least, we want to be seen as supporting the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.