Building for Everyone – a guide

Front cover of the guide.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.


Draft Urban Design Guidelines for Regional NSW

Street scene showing level footpath, shade treas, shade umbrella and lots of seatingRegional 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.


Universal Design Guidelines from Singapore

shows a man carrying a small child on his shoulders and a young woman pushing an older man in a wheelchairThe 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. 


Dementia Friendly Assessment Tool

Front cover of the publication has lime green with text and a man bending down to pet a wallaby.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.  

UD makes for dementia friendly hospitals

Front cover of the documentHospitals 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. 


It’s not wet, just shiny

A large arched window lets in light. It has struts that cast line shadows over the floorA 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.

hallway with lighting across the floor making it look like steps corridor with a shiny floor, brightly lit, but it looks wet










The Sage: Good example of going beyond compliance

The building is set under a large grey dome shape open at each end. The windows are place so that the many balcony levels show through and at night look like the superstructure of a shipThe Sage Gateshead is a really good example of a building and venue that has gone beyond basic compliance when it comes to accessibility, and that means it goes beyond building access. Well trained staff are comfortable with all customers and performers, and this is what makes it inclusive as well as accessible. Surrounding businesses are also involved and they benefit from the extra customers. As a result The Sage has won several awards including the Royal Institute of British Architects Inclusive Design Award in 2005 and the Business Tourism Excellence Gold Award at the VisitEngland 2018 Awards Ceremony. The video below uses the preparation and delivery of the MS Life conference in 2009 to explain their approach to inclusion. There are interviews with staff, outside event organisers, the PR company and the Hilton Hotel. The video was shot by a colleague of Chris Veitch, who will be a keynote speaker at the upcoming Australian UD Conference in Brisbane. 

Editor’s note: I attended a conference at The Sage in 2010. It is a truly amazing building. The design pays homage to the Newcastle shipyards that used to occupy the site. I was fortunate to capture the building at twilight when the roof dome blends into the sky and reveals the internal structures of balconies that make it look like ships at sea. Photos, Jane Bringolf.

The Sage
The Sage
The Sage




Neighbourhood fun for everyone

A suburban street in Bristol with cars parked on both sides of the road. Children are playing in the street.Roadways take up a lot of land. Time to make that land more flexible for more than just vehicles. The video below shows how closing down a residential street for two hours can produce a lot more activity just for people, not people in cars. The video explains how this has reduced obesity and social isolation. It also shows how it can become an inclusive space for everyone. When there is an inclusive communal space at your front door there is no excuse not to get involved. See the video for how this idea got started. Would be good to see more of it. But as always, it takes a leader to get it going. Would, or do councils in Australia support this initiative? This looks like a cost effective method for tackling childhood obesity.


Wayfinding Design Guidelines

front cover of the wayfinding guidelinesWayfinding requires designers to organise and communicate the dynamic relationships of space and the environment. Basically, it requires the naming and marking of places, identifying destinations, and providing directional information. The Cooperative Research Centre for Construction Innovation has produced a comprehensive, if somewhat technical, set of guidelines for wayfinding.

The guide covers basic principles, and very detailed design solutions and strategies, covering topics such as arrival point, main entry, internal arrival point, graphic communication, restrooms and toilets, lifts, and signage design. Sign legibility, system design criteria, and viewing distance to signs are all covered, plus much more. Wayfinding is a key element of accessibility for everyone. Making signs and systems universally designed for everyone requires additional thought and planning.

AS 1428.4.2 Wayfinding Standard, is expected to be published very soon. 


Universal Design, Health and Ageing: A checklist

The Center for Health Design based in California has produced an excellent checklist that focuses on design features specific to older people. Of course, such features will generally benefit others. The checklist is meant to support a universal design approach to environments for ageing populations. It is not meant to be used as a list of comprehensive specifications, but a “thought starter”.  It is probably best used to guide the discussion of design teams at the outset of a project. The checklist covers Home and Community including residential, Healthcare and design of clinics and emergency rooms, and Workplace designs and strategies.

The checklist matrix lists the strategy or goal, design considerations for the built environment, and the universal implications (benefits for everyone). For example, the goal of ageing in place in one’s home requires (among others) features that are easy to clean and maintain, and the universal implication is that it increases the suitability of housing for a wider range of users and potential buyers. The checklist has a comprehensive reference list to support the content and for further reading.