Putting a value on universal design

A Westpac bank branch in NSW country town. It is a large old two storey house with steps to the entranceBuilding regulations stipulate certain access requirements, but what do people value most and will they be high cost, particularly in retrofits? Using Stated Preferences analysis and cost-benefit data, researchers found that some features suited a wide group, while others suited only a few. The question then is, if the feature for the few costs the most, should it be included or ignored in a retrofit? 

The authors commented that by, “using the projects results and calculation tool in prioritising, more emphasis will be put on measures that improve the buildings’ quality for a wide audience. Such measures may easily be forgotten if one only focusses on the most obvious deficits.” Among high benefit features, were good lighting, visual and tactile markings, and stair handrails.

An interesting study that reveals the preferences of building users and the value they place on certain features and the related costs. This can be compared with features set down in access standards where the value for users is not assessed, nor the costs.

The title of the article is, Upgrading Existing Buildings to Universal Design. What Cost-Benefit Analyses Can Tell Us.  It is open source from IOS Press. 

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Shopping with universal design

A long view of the Family Mall - one of those in the study. It looks like any other western style mall.In most countries new shopping complexes  must comply with current disability access standards. However, that doesn’t guarantee a comfortable, safe or convenient shopping experience for everyone. An article published in Sustainability discusses the adaptation of the classic principles of universal design to suit shopping environments. Usability, safety and comfort were seen as the key design elements. The article includes a literature review and a study of six shopping malls. Although the study was carried out in a developing country, Iraqi Kurdistan, the model and survey results are applicable anywhere. However, it provides useful information for those designing buildings in this context. It is good to see a detailed review of shopping complex design, and a model for design criteria. 

The title of the article is an indicator that it contains some technical data, but most of the article is readable: “Using Structural Equation Modeling to Propose a Model for Shopping Complex Design Based on Universal Design Concept”. A very useful document for designers of all public buildings.

The picture is of the Family Mall, one of those included in the study.

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Children like it green

A group of children are walking along a path in a nature park.It’s amazing what can be done when GPS data is linked to population data. The Danish study used satellite data to show a link between growing up near green space and issues with mental health in adulthood. They found that children under 10 years who had greater access to green space may grow up to be happier adults. The FastCo article goes on to say that data was correlated between the child’s proximity to green space during childhood and that same person’s mental health later in life. The more green space they had access to, the less likely they were to have mental health issues later.

The title of this interesting article is “Kids surrounded by greenery may grow up to be happier adults“.

The study was conducted by researchers at Aarhus University. 

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Age-friendly meets sustainability

A street scene showing tall buildings, some traffic and people walking on a pedestrian crossing.Is there a link between an age-friendly urban environment and sustainability? This is a question posed by a group in Hong Kong. They carried out an on-street survey to see what the links are, if any. They claim that “The empirical results suggest how the aging‐friendly factors have impacted the economic, environmental, and social sustainability to a certain extent”. Among other results, outdoor spaces were not found to be a planning factor, but community support and health services were. The abstract below gives more detail. This paper shows how it is possible to bring different disciplines together rather than having them compete for attention. That is also apparent when taking a universal design approach to planning. 

The title of the article is “Does aging‐friendly enhance sustainability? Evidence from Hong Kong” You will need institutional access for a free read. 

Abstract: The aging population is one of the demographic changes in the 21st century. World Health Organization defines an age‐friendly city as a place that has an “inclusive and accessible urban environment that promotes active aging.” It receives considerable attention in the field of gerontology and contains important aspects of sustainable urban development. Unfortunately, there have not much research that addresses the relationship between aging‐friendly and sustainability. There is a need to modify the market mechanism to achieve environmental objectives while striking a balance between social and economic considerations. This paper aims to empirically examine the integrated relationships between the dense urban environment and the social and emotional needs of the elderly in the Hong Kong context. The on‐street survey was conducted in eight districts in Hong Kong to collect the opinions about aging‐friendly criteria and sustainability indicators. It utilizes principal component analysis and multiple regression technique to unveil the mask of their intrinsic relationship. The empirical results suggest how the aging‐friendly factors have impacted the economic, environmental, and social sustainability to a certain extent. Notably, two key findings were revealed from the empirical results. (a) “Outdoor Spaces” is consistently found not to be a planning factor that can enhance three types of sustainability, irrespective of the age groups in Hong Kong; (b) “Community Support and Health Services” is regarded as a significant factor, with the exception of economic sustainability (age group ≤60).

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Urban planning for population longevity

A row of two storey houses painted in different pastel colours.Urban designers can be champions for improvements for population ageing. That is a key theme in an article that proposes ways for helping older people stay put in their home, and if not, in their community. The article discusses current innovations to make neighbourhoods and homes more supportive both physically and socially. These include: enriching neighbourhoods, providing collective services, building all-age neighbourhoods, creating purpose-built supportive housing, developing smallscale intergenerational models, and engaging mobility, delivery, and communications innovations.

The title of the article is, “Improving housing and neighborhoods for the vulnerable: older people, small households, urban design, and planning”. You will need institutional access for a free read from SpringerLink. Or you can access via ResearchGate and request a copy of the article.

Abstract: The number of older people who need help with daily tasks will increase during the next century. Currently preferences and policies aim to help older people to stay in their existing homes, to age in place, even as they become less able to care for themselves and, increasingly, live alone. However, the majority of homes in the U.S. and many other countries are not designed to support advanced old age or are not located to easily provide support and services. The paper explores the needs of older people experiencing frailty. It examines the existing range of innovations to make neighbourhoods and homes more supportive, physically, socially, and in terms of services. These include: enriching neighbourhoods, providing collective services, building all-age neighbourhoods, creating purpose-built supportive housing, developing smallscale intergenerational models, and engaging mobility, delivery, and communications innovations. Some will allow people to remain in their current dwelling but others focus on people remaining in a local community. Few are widely available at present. Urban designers can more fully engage with the multiple challenges of those who have physical, sensory, and cognitive impairments and living in solo households by becoming champions for a more comprehensive set of public realm improvements and linkages.

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Planning action tool from an inclusive perspective

A diagram with five balloons. In the centre is Design for All. On the outside are the other four elements, multifunctional users, quality of life, sustainability, and inclusive planningThe principles of Design-for-All are used for the basis of an efficient and effective planning action tool in this academic paper from Italy. It brings together quality of life, multi-functional spaces, environmental sustainability, and inclusive urban planning strategies. The claim is that Design-for-All approach “represents a solution for matching people needs to urban environmental quality improvement”, and that inclusive planning strategies can support an ecosystem services network. You will need institutional access for a free read. The title is, Anthropic space and design for all. New knowledge paths for urban planning strategies.  The paper originates from Italy which may account for some of the heavy language.

AbstractNowadays city environment shows the presence of a mixed variety of elements, as natural, semi natural and anthropic components that build up both structure and connections of the urban context. This specific structure shapes and directs space and its functions strictly connected with their sustainable potential uses and sustainable development opportunities. The lack of rules and proper planning methods produces inefficient use conditions by resident citizens, entropy, functions’ reduction of ecological networks and deep environmental impacts. The consequence comes out to be a great widespread life quality decrease in urban areas. These thoughts lead the authors to rethink the definition first and then the place concept own interpretation, as a theoretical reference approach and in a particular way of the urban place, as an anthropic action useful in a multidimensional relationship analysis. Based on these considerations, the aim of the paper is that to introduce design for all as an efficient and effective planning action tool able to get sustainable operating strategies to match both people needs and urban system quality of life protection and enhancement in a long term timeline analysis.

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Gaining client acceptance of UD thinking

aerial view of three people at a desk looking at a set of construction drawingsAlthough architects might propose universal design principles in designs, it seems that Australia is not the only country where clients are ambivalent at best and resistant at worst in terms of inclusive thinking. In Clients’ Approach to Universal Design – A Slow Change? Sidse Grangaard of the Danish Building Research Institute reports on the research into why clients are not interested in going beyond basic building regulations. It would seem the design and construction industries share much in common across the globe. A useful research project. The full paper is available from the link.

Abstract: When new buildings do not comply with the accessibility requirements of the Danish Building Regulations, the main reason is often attributed to a lack of knowledge and prioritization. It is the experience of architectural firms that clients decide their own focus on accessibility during the design process, and also whether the level of accessibility should be higher than that stipulated in the Danish Building Regulations. Post-occupancy evaluations point out that when the client is particularly conscious of, or ambitious about, accessibility/Universal Design (UD), the result is a building with an extensive level of accessibility. Thus, the client is a key figure for the project and the level of ambition. Based on interviews with 15 Danish clients, this paper presents a characterisation of their conception of Universal Design. It is significant that, as a concept, UD has not gained currency among the clients that let their ambition level be defined by the Danish Building Regulations. In order to capture differences between clients, a description of the client’s conception of users and designs is based on an analytical framework about the concepts of particular, universal, market and equality. The analysis shows that three conceptions about accessibility/UD can be characterized among the clients: 1) accessibility by design, 2) broad accessibility 3) added value. Above all, the findings show that a development is going on towards UD, although slowly.

The article is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication. 

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Including children in high rise living

Children play with bubbles in urban area.Are high rise developments good for children? This is the key question in a study where children are included in the design of social spaces in high density living. The effects of high rise living on families with children are discussed; the methodology is explained; and tower blocks re-imagined. International examples are discussed and thoughtful design solutions are presented in the conclusions, both within buildings and in spaces surrounding them. 

From the introduction: “The significance of the skyscraper typology persists as populations grow, land continues to become scarce, and to defy the detrimental social and environmental effects of urban sprawl. What this typology seems to have denied over many years is its relationship with the child. It has led to a rapid decline of children’s physical activity and independent mobility resulting in increased rates of child obesity and other health concerns as described by psychologists and medical professionals across the country.” The author is Suruchi Modi, an architect and urban designer with a specialisation in Tall Building Design from the University of Nottingham UK. There is a useful list of references at the end.

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Norway: A guide for UD is not enough

An aerial view of a hospital courtyard showing gardens, seating and children's play equipment.St Olav’s Hospital in Trondheim is considered an great example of how UD is deployed across the whole hospital setting from the outdoor and external features through to the internal design. The Chief Architect says, “Guidelines are not enough, you need clear intentions. You have to know what’s the point of this”. Knowing the point is a key success factor in taking a universal design approach. The point is inclusion – it’s about society, not just design. This is what is lost in access compliance – no-one knows the point. An article in Citylab provides some examples of how Norwegian designers are embracing the principles of universal design. This approach is driven by the Norwegian policy Norway Universally Designed by 2025.The Norwegian policy, which was launched in 2005, also includes transportation, open spaces and ICT and communications. Nicely written article by Marie Doezema. Olav Rand Bringa was part of the early movement and wrote about the processes in, Universal Design and Visitability: from Accessibility to Zoning.  He also presented at the UDHEIT conference in Dublin. 

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It pays to be sustainable and inclusive

A desktop with a sheet of printed calculations, a calculator and measuring instrument with coins.Interesting results are reported in an engineering and mathematics research paper from Europe on the costs of including both sustainability and inclusive design thinking in dwellings. All costs involved in constructing a home were taken into account: materials, labour, construction, and the running and maintenance costs of sub-components over the entire life-cycle of a home, which is a nominal fifty year period. The authors claim that by taking the cost savings due to efficiency and adaptability of the home, there is a 23.35% reduction in overall costs. Therefore it makes sense to take this path for cost reasons alone: “If it were not for any other reason, like protecting the environment or caring for [people with disability] and for our comfort, there would still be a valid point in using these materials and technologies from the costs’ point of view”. The paper includes graphs and detailed calculation tables. The title of the paper is “Techniques for ensuring cost savings and environment protection in buildings” and is published in Applied Mathematics, Mechanics, and Engineering Vol. 61, Issue IV, November 2018. 

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