Integrating universal design was a priority in the redesigning of the Gateway Arch Museum in St Louis. A gently sloping plaza, architecturally integrated ramps, and engaging exhibitions. An article in the St Louis online news gives a good run-down of the features. The touchable exhibits have been a great success with everyone. The universal design concepts allow people to interact with exhibits rather than just look at them. There are other enhancements for people with disability too. The arch and the park are now easier to access by foot or bike as well. The Archinet website features a brief overview by the architects, and pictures of the museum. The timelapse video of the construction is interesting because of the landscaping of the parkland around it.
Here are two pictures showing the difference between of access compliance and universal design. The drinking fountain with dog bowl is designed for children, adults and wheelchair users in mind. But it was placed away from the footpath on sandy soil that bogs down in wet weather. And the concrete apron was too small to allow approach from either side. Once the council were informed, they came back and made the concrete apron larger and connected it to the footpath. It may have been the council’s intention to have this in the first place, but perhaps the contractors thought they could save money on materials.
The first photo shows the drinking fountain on a small square of concrete in the middle of the grass. The second photo shows a larger concrete apron connected to the footpath. It is now accessible to all. Thanks to John Evernden for this item and the photos.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade stipulates that all overseas aid programs must follow the Principles of Universal Design. They have produced a comprehensive guide to all types of development projects including water, health, education and the built environment. It is useful to see how thinking universally about design can produce such a clear guide to inclusive practice and accessibility. This document was updated with a 2016 brochure with ten tips for promoting universal design in aid projects. There is also the companion document Development for All: 2015-2020 Strategy.
An obvious place to think about healing architecture is hospitals and health centres. The underpinning philosophy is that the physical environment can make a difference to the speed at which patients recover or adapt to acute and chronic conditions. Bindu Guthula discusses this using case studies from Germany, Denmark and Congo. Gardens and nature, colour and lighting, sounds and aromas are discussed by as well as the built environment. The article includes a checklist from the Center for Health Design for the built environment. This comprehensive article is in the Design for All Institute of India Newsletter (page 155). This international newsletter is a large document and all text is in bold type.
Building for Everyone: A Universal Design Approach is an extensive guidebook for the external built environment. At 100 pages this publication from Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland is comprehensive. It covers siting, car parking, pedestrian environments, construction sites, and footpaths. At the end of each section is a checklist for reference. There is an appendix of Human Abilities and Design which lists and explains physical, sensory and intellectual abilities, and age and size. This guide is one of ten published by the Centre. The good aspect of these guides is the perspective of a universal design approach rather than proposing prescriptive design parameters.
Regional and rural areas of NSW have a much higher percentage of older people, particularly in areas popular with older tree-changers and sea-changers. So the draft Urban Design Guidelines for Regional NSW should take this into account. The seven objectives in the draft guidelines are: Better Fit, Better Performance, Better for Community, Better for People, Better working, Better value, and Better look and feel. They are explained in detail and will typically apply to the public realm, town centres, infill developments, and greenfield developments. This 90 page guide includes a profile of each region.
Each of the design objectives would benefit from an overlay of universal design concepts. The document explains that “Design draws together many fields of expertise … [with] often competing requirements … that meets the needs of many and diverse groups”. A universal design approach automatically draws these groups together. However, such an approach is left up to individual councils.
The Singapore Government’s Universal Design Guidelines for commercial buildings has been well thought out and is presented clearly with many illustrations and drawings. This is a comprehensive guide that goes beyond basic accessibility requirements of previous guidelines. Access consultants might wish to compare this document with the Australian Access to Premises Standard, and the guidelines which can be downloaded from the Human Rights Commission website.
Singapore is keen to progress universal design and has a Universal Design Department within the Building and Construction Authority.
The 2015 edition of the Dementia Friendly Community Environmental Assessment Tool provides a relatively simple checklist that takes in many of the regular aspects of accessibility overlaid with design thought for people with dementia. A good place to start your thinking. The more recent online resource from Dementia Training Australia expands on the 2015 edition and goes into more detail. Sections can be downloaded separately. There are three parts in the handbook:
- Part 1 ‘Key Design Principles’ contains a description of key design principles.
- Part 2 ‘The Dementia Friendly Community – Environmental Assessment Tool (DFC-EAT)’ introduces the DFC-EAT and provides directions for its use.
- Part 3 ‘Using the Spreadsheet’ contains a guide to scoring the DFC-EAT and showing the results graphically.
Hospitals can be distressing places at the best of times. If you have dementia or other cognitive condition it can be a frightening and disorienting place whether a patient or a visitor. Stressed patients stay longer and need more medication.Taking a universal design approach can provide a better experience. Academic research and consumer input underpins this comprehensive guide to designing dementia-friendly hospitals from a universal design approach. In Ireland, where the guide was developed, they estimate almost one third of patients have dementia and as the population ages this will increase. Of course, dementia friendly design using a UD approach is good and inclusive for everyone. The guidelines are available to read online using Issuu software.
Below is a short video that provides an overview of the design factors that need to be considered in creating a dementia friendly hospital.
There is also a media release that provides an overview of the development of the guidelines and the project partners.
A shiny floor may not be wet but it could look that way to someone with dementia. A black mat isn’t a hole in the ground either. And shadows of lattice through a window can look like steps. Mono coloured features are hard to distinguish too. These design details can easily be overcome with some extra thought about perception at the early design stage, or adapted in existing homes and buildings. The Guardian has an excellent article about these issues. It discusses how virtual reality software can bring more awareness to designers about these issues as well as the concepts of universal design.
Editor’s note: taking photos of places and seeing them in two dimensions instead of three really highlights the perception differences.