Universal Design and the Circular Economy

A yellow skip bin is overflowing with rubbish.Concerns for climate change and waste production are driving the concept of a “circular economy“. This requires designers to think and create in different ways. But will these new ways also be inclusive, accessible and universally designed? Chances are the answer is “yes”. That’s because a circular economy requires designers to engage with stakeholders in the design process.

Including universal design frameworks in the concept of a circular economy is one way to draw together the many disciplines. A circular economy shares at least one thing in common with universal design – the need to consult with stakeholders. This is one aspect discussed in an article from Sweden that discusses the issues in terms of challenges and practical implications.

The concept of a circular economy is new and mostly discussed in theoretical terms. So it is good to see the concept of universal design being brought into the conversation before implementation strategies are formed. The title of the open access article is, How circular is current design practice? Investigating perspectives across industrial design and architecture in the transition towards a circular economy.

Abstract  

The transition to a circular economy (CE) produces a range of new challenges for designers and requires specific knowledge, strategies, and methods. To date, most studies regarding design for a CE have been theoretical and conceptual, hence, limited research has been conducted on the practical implications of designing for a CE. Therefore, the aim of this study is to provide a better understanding of how design practitioners interpret and implement the CE concept in practice. To capture the complexity of real-world cases, semi-structured interviews were carried out with design practitioners (N = 12) within the disciplines of architecture and industrial design who have actively worked with circularity in a design agency setting. The results show that the practitioners have diverse perspectives on designing for a CE, relating to (1) the circular design process, (2) the effects of the CE on design agencies, (3) the changing role of the designer, and (4) the external factors affecting circular design in practice. Some differences were identified between the architects and industrial designers, with the industrial designers more strongly focused on circular business models and the architects on the reuse of materials on a building level. In addition, circular strategies and associated (similar) terminologies were understood and applied in fundamentally different ways. As the CE blurs boundaries of scale and disciplines, there is a need for universal design frameworks and language. The CE concept is expanding the scope of the design process and driving the integration of new knowledge fields and skills in the design process. The successful implementation of the CE in practice is based on extensive collaboration with stakeholders and experts throughout all stages of the design process. Design agencies have addressed the CE by establishing dedicated CE research and design teams, facilitating knowledge exchange, developing their own circular strategies and methods, and striving for long-term client relationships that foster the engagement of designers with the lifecycles of designed artefacts rather than perceiving design projects as temporary endeavors. Ultimately, a holistic and integral approach towards design in a CE is needed to ensure that the underlying CE goals of contributing to sustainable development and establishing a systemic shift are ongoingly considered.

The Conversation has an article explaining the circular economy.

Access doesn’t guarantee social participation

Library building with wide level paved pathway to the entrance. Picture taken in Berrigan NSW.It’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it. So, it’s all very well being able to physically access the built environment, but access doesn’t guarantee social participation. Just considering how the shapes, sizes and ages of different bodies physically interact with the built environment is not enough. If universal design is about increasing access as well as physical and mental wellbeing then there is more work to do. This is the summation of a recent literature review that found social participation aspects of universal design is under researched. 

Similarly to other research on inclusive practice, the need to include non-professionals and users of the built environment is key to creating an accessible and inclusive built environment. The final sentence in the literature review sums up a good call to action. Universal design straddles multiple boundaries. So the amount of collective universal design knowledge should be available and accessible to everyone. Indeed, that is just what CUDA is trying to achieve along with many practitioners

The literature review’s key question was “How is social participation represented in recent discourse around universal design in the built environment”. Studies from around the world were examined from 52 databases. The article includes the methodology and results. 

It is easier to measure whether a person can use a building (accessibility) than it is to measure what they are using it for (participation). The Australian Standards cover accessibility and this is why the story often ends here. 

The title of the article is, An integrated literature review of the current discourse around universal design in the built environment – is occupation the missing link?  The term “occupation” is from the occupational therapy field and means “doing things”. You will need institutional access for a free read. However, you can ask the lead author, Danielle Hitch at Deakin University, for a copy. Or Valerie Watchorn via ResearchGate.  

Abstract

Purpose: To synthesise current literature regarding applications of universal design (UD) to built environments that promote social participation, identify areas of agreement and areas requiring further attention and development. Occupations refer to personally meaningful activities, which people need, want or must do as part of their daily life.

Materials and methods: Recently published literature (January 2011–December 2017) relevant to UD and built environments, and pertaining to any discipline or professional area, were identified via a systematic search of databases in the EbscoHOST platform. The person–environment–occupation (PEO) model was chosen as a theoretical framework for the review, which included a sample of 33 peer reviewed journal articles.

Results: The current discourse is driven more by description, discussion, and commentary than empirical approaches; although, a combination of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods approaches was employed. Much of the current discourse on UD and the built environment focuses on the person and the environment, with the occupations carried out in built environments and the interaction between these domains not referred to in much detail.

Conclusions: Including occupations, social participation, multi- and trans-disciplinary collaboration, and multicultural perspectives in the ongoing discourse around UD would enable the concept to reach its full potential as a medium for social justice.

Implications for Rehabilitation: The universal design (UD) process must account for the occupations that people perform in the built environment. 
Multi-disciplinary research and development, using multiple methods, is the most appropriate approach to investigate the application of UD to the built environment. Key areas of contention within the current discourse include meaningful inclusion of non-professional stakeholders, tensions between embracing and eliminating diversity and how professional education should be delivered.

Good design: Not an added extra

A night time view of iconic buildings in Singapore.What makes good design in the built environment, and who is it good for? And how do you measure the value of good design? These are vexed questions when it comes to everyone who has a stake in urban environments and housing.  Property developers will have one idea of value, designers another, and users and occupiers will have yet another view. So how to bring this together and measure good design? It’s not an added extra. 

An article by urban researchers and the Victorian Government Architect discusses these issues. The construction industry is considered a major contributor to Australia’s economy. Consequently, measurements of value will be in dry economic terms. But value to citizens cannot be measured with existing economic models. This requires qualitative measures – that is, getting out and asking people about their experiences with the built environment. The article has charts comparing different perspectives on design and value that make the points well.

The title of the article is Placing a value on good design for cities: evidence and prospects. Although published in 2014, the content remains relevant today. The article joins the dots between the public environment and our homes. So it is particularly relevant in light of the work being done by the Australian Building Codes Board. The “Accessible Housing” project has reached the stage of political decision-making. The article makes some pertinent points in this regard:

“The challenge is to broaden from readily measured elements of design such as cost per square metre or apartment size, to include the less readily measured ones such as sense of security or good ventilation…” One architect argued that good design “improves the function and usability of the house, while reducing building costs.” This was achieve by reducing the “‘wasted’ hallway space by 5%, translating to a reduced construction cost of around $18,000.”

There is a companion article with an emphasis on apartment design

Abstract: The built environment has value. Most commonly, that value is established through market prices for rent or purchase. Some elements of value, while recognised as important, are under-appreciated as it is difficult for them to be directly monetised or quantified in other terms. In addition, the value of the built environment from the perspective of general users, the community of public stakeholders, may differ and conflict with those of individual private stakeholders. This paper works with the proposition that good design in the built environment imparts value and that there is a need to articulate value in order to inform decisions about what is good design and how to achieve best value built environment outcomes. To be widely accepted and effective, arguments for good design must rest on a rigorous evidence base, with a clear methodology for establishing a cost-benefit assessment process or other consistent measurement approaches. Research addressing these issues has been investigated internationally, particularly from the UK. However, the value of good design is under researched in Australia. There is, therefore, a requirement for research which seeks to improve the evidence surrounding the value of good design in the Australian context. This paper presents a review of the current state of research into the value of good design for the built environment, both in Australia and internationally. Following this, methods to address key gaps for valuation are presented and steps for further research outlined.

 

Universally designed emergency management

With the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, the need to have inclusive emergency systems is paramount. While there is some awareness of people with disability within emergency management, there are few tools that embrace universal design principles. Research in this area has focused on the general public, but not on stakeholders such as first responders, control room personnel and decision makers. The Australian experience last summer meant that many of us turned to our mobile phones and downloaded apps to keep us up to date on our situation. But how inclusive are they?

A research paper from Norway takes the topic of emergency management beyond the physical environment, such as escape routes, to communications technology. Appropriate technology can improve disaster management for everyone.

The paper is a literature review of universal design methods in emergency management. Among the findings was awareness of people with disability was increasing and systems were being adapted accordingly. However, gaps remain. Some of these are:

    • Most of the work on ICT tools and platforms for Emergency Management does not take into account Universal Design nor accessibility.
    • There is a lack of communication support between emergency medical responders and people that are deaf.
    • In use of social networks in emergency situations, the age gap was identified as significantly more severe than the disability gap.
    • Good efforts towards accessible tools and platforms exist, but most of them are on the conceptual or at best on the prototype level.
    • Research on the use of assistive technology by older adults during disasters is a neglected issue.
    • Accessibility is often limited to access to Internet, rather than concerning the diversity of stakeholders and their access to digital solutions in Emergency Management.

They also found that participatory design methods gave best results but were rarely used. Maps for visualising disasters were unlikely to be accessible, but had high value for users. The article is comprehensive and covers every aspect of emergency and disaster management, particularly from the perspective of emergency personnel. 

The title of the article is, Universal Design of ICT for Emergency Management from Stakeholders’ Perspective. It is open source.

Abstract: While Universal Design principles have been adopted in many areas to ensure that products and services are usable for the broadest possible diversity of users, there is still an open area when it comes to the emergency management domain. This article aims at providing a systematic overview of the current state of the emerging research field of Universal Design of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Emergency Management, and to highlight high-impact research opportunities to ensure that the increasing introduction of ICT in Emergency Management can contribute to removing barriers instead of adding more barriers, in particular for the elderly and people with disabilities. A systematic review on relevant literature on Universal Design, ICT and Emergency Management between 2008 and 2020 was employed using predefined frameworks, to answer the following questions: (1) Who are the target audiences (stakeholders) in research on Universal Design of ICT in Emergency Management in the different categories of Emergency Management ICT tools, and to what degree is Human-Centred Design and Universal Design taken into account? (2) What are the most important challenges and gaps in research on Universal Design of ICT in Emergency Management? We identify a set of gaps in the literature, indicating that there are some challenges where Universal Design is still limitedly addressed in technology development. We also derive promising future research topics based on areas that are missing in the literature.

Colour combinations for everyone

tfnsw_portfoliophoto_03 This article from Japan came about from observations during a disaster situation – in this case the 2011 Tsunami. This short paper outlines research into colours and colour combinations that are easily seen and interpreted quickly by people who have one of the colour blindness conditions. 

A bright pink sign saying Wynyard and directions to the station.The results of this study and other colour studies are now reflected in the Japanese standards for the paint, printing and design industries. The colour scheme-set contains 20 colours and is divided into groups depending on whether things are small scale or large scale. Bright pink turned out to be a colour for large signage.  For more on the colours go to the Open Journal of Social Science and download the five page article, “Color Barrier Free Displays in Disaster Situations”.

 

Architecture and Health

Picture of Cabot Square, Canary Wharf, London showing an open paved space with attractive buildings on all sidesIt would seem that green spaces are only part of the story when it comes to urban design and health. Beautiful buildings also rate highly according to a study in the UK. However, beautiful landscapes need to be enjoyed by the whole population and unfortunately, we still have architects thinking of children, disability inclusion, and ageing as a ‘tacked on’ afterthought or special add-on feature. Obvious ramps and rails not only detract from the building itself, they detract from the overall enjoyment by people whose needs are excluded at the design concept stage. 

The Sourceable article by Steve Hansen explains how beautiful architecture positively affects health. Based on research findings, green space did not always gain top spot with residents in urban areas. Being green does not necessarily make it “scenic”. The research involved participants viewing photographs of open space and buildings and rating them as scenic or un-scenic. The conclusion is that “scenic-ness” is more important to health than just being green.

Universal design and an historical city: a case study

A late evening view of the pedestrian area showing street lighting and pedestrians. Real life examples of taking a universal design approach to urban areas are few and far between. This is especially the case for established city areas including those that are heritage listed. So, a universal design case study from Konya, a heritage city in Turkey, makes an interesting subject for a case study. This city has a history of many settlements over thousands of years that were not designed for modern day needs.  

Using the 7 Principles of Universal Design, the researchers carefully analysed the pedestrian area to find out what improvements were needed to be more accessible and inclusive. They ranked circulation space, pedestrian crossings, building entrances, parking areas, transportation stops, wayfinding and street furniture for their level of access and inclusion. 

Each principle of universal design is applied methodically to each aspect of the built environment. Photographs, tables and graphs help illustrate their findings.

The article begins with an overview of universal design and similar terms and reminds us that this is not “design for people with disability”. The article concludes by highlighting the areas in most need of urgent attention based on the analysis.

The title of the article is, Universal Design in Urban Public Spaces: The Case of Zafer Pedestrian Zone / Konya-Turkey, and is available from ResearchGate. It is a good example of how to apply the 7 Principles of Universal Design. The 8 Goals of Universal Design can be used in the same way.

Abstract: Individuals in society who have different requirements and needs (disabled people, elders, children, pregnant women, parents with strollers etc.) go through many difficulties while accessing urban indoor and outdoor services due to the constraints originating from built environment. Universal design is the design of the environment and the product that can be used by all the people. With it’s inclusive and unifying characteristics, universal design has become a design approach that have been adopted by the academia during the recent years. Planning and organizing the urban spaces with regard to the universal design principles will contribute to an increase in the life quality of all the people who use the city. This article aims to evaluate the usage of urban spaces in Zafer Pedestrian Zone, located in Konya city centre, within the scope of universal design principles. The concept of universal design in the historical process, universal design’s emergence process and it’s principles and significances has been discussed in the theoretical infrastructure section of the article. In the fieldwork section of the article, the suitability analysis of a chosen sample place’s space usage have been carried out scrutinisingly under four chosen headlines, with regards to the universal design principles and standards.

 

Accessible built environment: Ulaanbaatar case study

What can a project in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia teach us about an accessible built environment? Well, probably not much, except that the issues are the same the world over. Doesn’t matter if it is a developed or developing country – there’s plenty of work to do. And that means doing more than drafting a policy. 

Many of the 163 signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are developing countries. And many of these are taking matters seriously. They see the economics of it – participation improves productivity. Australia has lots of strategies and plans for disability inclusion and age friendly environments. But will Australia start falling behind developing countries with our lack of coordinated action? Not a good look if so. 

Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia is the subject of a study funded by UKaid. The case study report reads similarly to many case studies and guidelines from developed countries. But the backdrop is very different. While countries like Mongolia engage with universal design and accessibility, we are still talking about these issues. However, the Sustainable Development Goals might help us get a move along. 

The Ulaanbaatar case study makes an interesting read.  The report summary lists the key barriers which look familiar:

• The way the city is evolving leaves limited space for accessibility. Urban planning and coordinated efforts should make space to build in accessibility

• A lack of knowledge on the cost of inclusive design is a barrier for decisionmakers. Good quality design should not cost more

• Laws and policies fall through on implementation. Mechanisms are needed to ensure implementation

• A lack of responsibility and accountability for inclusion in built environment and infrastructure projects means existing standards are not enforced

• A lack of good examples of local inclusive design solutions creates a barrier to motivating the general public and designers. Ulaanbaatar needs a vision for inclusive design.

The title of the report is, Inclusive Design and Accessibility of the Built Environment in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

There is a report summary and a full report, which has insights and lessons learned. The project included access to assistive technology (aids and devices) as well as the built environment. Together universal design and assistive technology create the continuum of inclusion. 

Mongolia ratified the UN Convention in 2016 and passed a law to protect the rights of people with disability. This began the drive towards accessible environments. The city does not have a history of urban planning so it is possible to begin with a relatively clean slate. 

Design, Dignity and Dementia Report

Front cover of the Design Dignity Dementia Report.The field of dementia and the design of the built environment is not well understood. Until now. Comprehensive Australian research has resulted in two volumes on the topic. The research looks at current best practice in design, and regional and cultural aspects. It also covers the importance of including people with dementia in the design process. The impact of the pandemic is another discussion point. People with dementia have the same human rights as others and that includes being treated with dignity.

The first volume is about the approach to the topic, the thorny issues, design processes and the 10 principles they developed. The second volume presents 84 case studies from around the world. A collection of day care centres, residential care facilities, and public buildings illustrate good design principles. The case studies include architectural detail and photos illustrate some of the design points.

The title of the report is, World Alzheimer Report 2020: Design, Dignity, Dementia: dementia-related design and the built environment. Authors are Prof Richard Fleming, John Zeisel and Kirsty Bennett.

The report launch webinar gives a good overview. Unfortunately the captions are auto-generated so they aren’t the best. However you can increase the speed and still understand the content.

Principles of dementia 

    • Unobtrusively reducing risks: Minimise risk factors such as steps and ensure safety features are as unobtrusive as possible.
    • Providing a human scale: The scale of buildings can impact the behaviour of people with dementia, so provide a human scale to minimise intimidating features.
    • Allowing people to see and be seen: The provision of an easily understood environment will help to minimise confusion. A literal line of sight should be clear for both residents, and staff.
    • Reducing unhelpful stimulation: Environments should be designed to minimise exposure to stimuli that are unhelpful, such as unnecessary or competing noises and the sight of unnecessary signs, posters, spaces and clutter.
    • Optimise helpful stimulation: Enabling the person living with dementia to see, hear and smell things that give them cues about where they are and what they can do, can help minimise their confusion and uncertainty.
    • Support movement and engagement: Providing a well-defined pathway of movement, free of obstacles, can support engagement with people and opportunities.
    • Create a familiar place: The use of familiar building design, furniture, fittings and colours affords people with dementia an opportunity to maintain their competence.
    • Provide opportunities to be alone or with others: A variety of spaces, some for quiet conversation and some for larger groups, as well as spaces where people can be by themselves, gives people with dementia a choice to how they spend their time.
    • Link to the community: The more an environment enables visitors to drop in easily and enjoy being in places that encourage interaction, the more the sense of identity that comes from spending time with loved ones and others is reinforced.
    • Design in response to vision for way of life: The way of life offered needs to be clearly stated and the building designed both to support it and to make it evident to the residents and staff.

Urban public space and active ageing

An older man and woman are walking away from the camera down a street. They are wearing backpacks and holding hands.China, Singapore and Japan have a policy framework that supports older people to remain within the community. Many Western countries have favoured the age-segregated community model. Regardless, both need to take a holistic view of the lives of older people to maintain quality of life. The design of urban public space is key to this approach. 

Social participation is part of staying healthy and active in older age. A study using an active ageing framework draws together physical, social and mental health into a strategy for urban design. The author argues that adding accessible, barrier-free to existing spaces is insufficient to encourage participation. Creating age-friendly spaces that are not joined up also needs to be addressed. Ageing is much more than providing health care or islands of specialised design for older people. The answer is public space that has mixed functions and integrates all generations. That is, universal design.

One of the strategies is taken from an example in Japan where a day care centre is adjacent a kindergarten. The space between is designed to encourage interaction. While this is not a new idea, it is yet to be realised more widely in new developments and urban renewal projects.

The world’s population is getting older. More people are living 30 or more years in older age, and many are maintaining health for longer. Urban design has a role to play in supporting our longevity in all aspects of health and wellbeing. It is also about dignity and independence.

The title of the paper is, The Research on the Optimum Design Strategies of the Public Space Against the Background of Active Aging

Editor’s note on terminology: “Older people” is the preferred terminology in Western cultures, not “the elderly” as if they are an homogeneous group. 

ABSTRACT:  The urban public space is an important part of the daily living space of the elderly. The paper explores the practical significance of the urban public space in meeting the psychological needs of the elderly and their will to participate in the society. The urban elderly space based on the concept of active aging, is conducive to the spiritual consolation and satisfaction of the elderly in the space with multigenerational integration, multi-functional combination and guidance and helps guide the elderly to realize their self-worth through learning and creating and participating in the society more comprehensively. Based on the theory of active aging, the paper analyzes the differences of the functions of the urban public space for the elderly in China and in view of the limitations of the design of urban public space for the elderly in China. With typical cases in China and abroad, it proposes the ideas and directions of optimum designs of urban public space for the elderly and summarizes the design strategies of the active responses to aging of the urban public space for the elderly.