Neighbourhoods for every age

Shows the street of a new housing development with driveways for cars but no footpath for peopleTwo case studies are used by Lisa Stafford and Claudia Baldwin to illustrate the need to utilise universal design principles in neighbourhood planning and design. Using the experiences of children and older adults they discuss how universal design is the bridging concept for joined up thinking for greater liveability for all ages. However, entrenched practices based on compliance leave no space for the application of voluntary guidelines whether for one age group or another. Designing universally requires the involvement of users of all ages and abilities in the design development stage. Inviting them to comment at a later stage assumes only cosmetic changes are needed to the “grand design”.

The authors mention universalism, a concept raised by Rob Imrie who claims that some UD advocates are ambivalent about specialist designs, and due to the political landscape, overcoming barriers will take more than just universal design concepts. The authors agree with Imrie that applying universal design principles in urban planning processes is not therefore the answer to everything. Also, more research is needed in this field to sort through the issues of politics and practice, and disability justice.

Planning neighbourhoods for all ages and abilities: A multi-generational perspective, is an academic paper. It has several photographs illustrating the findings and the points made. You can also download Imrie’s paper from ReseachGate

Dr Lisa Stafford is a Director of CUDA.

No Place to Grow Old

WHO age friendly logo of 8 petals showing the 8 domains of lifeAge Friendly Cities has its founding concepts in health ageing. Well if it’s healthy for older people it’s healthy for everyone. These cities should be walkable, compact and have infrastructure that supports liveability. But planning laws haven’t this and continue to address ageing in terms of age-segregated living arrangements. 

Canada 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. 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. Consequently, little has changed in the last ten years. 

The survey found that older people were still seen as a special-needs group rather than establishing inclusive 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 on the WHO website. You can also find out how 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.

Neighbourhood design important for inclusion

shows roof tops of a development in a greenfield area. Photo taken from the top of a hill looking downA recent article published in The Conversation about inclusive communities suggests neighbourhood and urban planning have a key role in promoting diversity, and through diversity comes safety and inclusiveness. This is particularly the case for adults with an intellectual disability.

The authors stress the “main issue is not the type of accommodation, but its location. The neighbourhood, its design, and the community of people who live there are all significant factors for supporting safety and inclusion.” And surprisingly the exclusion of cars (in terms of thoroughfares) via a return to the cul-de-sac is seen as a significant design principle to reconsider for inclusive neighbourhoods. Preliminary results found three critical aspects for designing an inclusive neighbourhood:

  1. actual and perceived safety within the street and neighbourhood
  2. access to services and amenities via walking, cycling or public transport
  3. inclusion in community life and local neighbourhood activity.

This post was submitted by Nicholas Loder, Deputy Chair, CUDA.

Mobilising Design

Dark blue cover of the book Mobilising DesignDesign of movement in terms of pedestrians, cyclists and transport systems is the subject of the book Mobilising Design. The book chapters are written by various academics and should be of interest to both theorists and practitioners wanting to understand how design impacts on the way people move around in various environments and in various ways. For example, the “Legible London” chapter covers wayfinding systems and pedestrian mapping. “Being wheeled through the hospital” chapter looks at people’s spatial experiences in movement. 

The book takes a multi-disciplinary approach to design incorporating, geography, sociology, economic history, architecture, design and urban theory. There are many case studies demonstrating the diverse roles of design in cities, in buildings, transport infrastructure, and through work and leisure activities. 

This recently published book is available for purchase and is edited by Justin Spinney, Suzanne Reimer, and Philip Pinch. It is part of the Routledge Studies in Human Geography. The Table of Contents lists the broad spectrum of contributors and topics.

Books by Jos Boys

Front cover of book. Dark green background with human figures in white Jos Boys’ latest book Disability, Space, Architecture: A Reader, is a collection of both academic and personal accounts of how the built environment is experienced by different people. It explores the interconnections between disability, architecture and cities. The writing style is mostly non-academic and includes chapters from a man who is blind and a woman who approaches universal design from a feminist perspective. 

This book follows Doing Disability Differently, which was cover of book showing a young person in a wheelchair looking out over rooftops in the London Eyepublished in 2014. The Architectural Review online publication has an interesting, if short, review of the book in which Jos Boys argues that rethinking ability and architecture offers a powerful tool to design differently. It asks the intriguing question: can working from dis/ability actually generate an alternative kind of architectural avant-garde?

You might also be interested in reading another article in The Architectural Review, Redefining modular man for a new era of inclusivity by Catherine Slessor.

Overcoming Barriers to Participation: An Aquarium Case Study

view of an aquarium window with two silhouetted figures in front Informal learning, such as that gained by visiting a museum, gallery, zoo or aquarium, is part of everyday life for most people. Generally, they are unaware of how they are learning and taking in information. For people who are blind or have low vision, informal learning in the context of an aquarium with moving animals rather than static exhibits is another kind of design challenge. Providing audio descriptions about the fish, for example, does not describe the visual scene in real time, such as “there is a large stingray coming towards us and a shoal of fish is moving out of its path”. In her article, Overcoming Barriers to Participation: An Aquarium Case Study, Carrie Bruce reports the results of a trial of a prototype system for providing both real time information with descriptive information.

Editor’s note: It is too easy to assume that a blind person would not want to participate in something that for most people is about the visual experience, such as sight seeing or a stage show. I recently travelled to Peru with a small tour group which included a blind man. He could not see Machu Picchu and all the ancient relics, he could not see Lake Titicaca, and all the other wonderful sights, but with the help of a companion he still walked around Machu Picchu and sailed on Lake Titicaca as well as joining in all other activities and enjoying excellent meals. Although he became blind in his childhood, in 70 years he has travelled widely across the world and has many interesting tales to tell.  Also a point to note for inclusive tourism. 

Architecture students’ attitudes to UD

architecture blueprint with rule and pencilThe attitudes of architecture students to universal design is the focus of a Deakin University study. It builds on previous work (Design 4 Diversity) in 2010 on inter-professional learning for architecture and occupational therapy students. The findings of this latest study show that while architecture students viewed access to public environments favourably, there was a mixed response in relation to private homes.

Reasons not to include universal design features in homes included cost, client desires and restrictions on creativity. For example, “Over-designing for the sake of making the residence accessible in the future, just in case, is an unnecessary cost”; “Private homes should be designed to the individual”; and “Legislation restricts design, resulting in negative impacts the ‘requirements’ did not intend”. (Ed Note: These phrases have been used many times by practicing architects and designers as followers of UD are aware.)

The study used a quantitative approach and applied statistical techniques to the data. The first part of the document covers the history of universal design (as all such studies do) and there is an extended section on methods and statistics. For followers of UD, the Discussion section might be of most interest. 

The authors of Students’ Attitudes to Universal Design in Architecture Education, are Helen Larkin, Kelsey Dell, and Danielle Hitch. It was published in the Journal of Social Inclusion, 2016.

See also previous work by Larkin et al, on this topic, and the 2016 UD Conference presentation by Nicholas Loder and Lisa Stafford, “Moving from the Margins: Embedding inclusive thinking in design education” 

Universal Design and Cultural Heritage

architectural plansDo architects design first and worry about legislation later or is it the reverse? Danish researcher Camilla Rhyl decided to find out in the context of increasing universal design in the built environment. She found that the legislative interpretation takes precedence over architectural interpretation and is perceived as limiting creativity and architectural quality. Architects regularly work with sensory, social and cognitive aspects of design, but there is no legislative reference to this part of their work. The following is from the second half of Camilla Rhyl’s abstract from a book chapter, So much more than building regulations: Universal design and the case of practice.

“The article shows how their methods, values and architectural thinking is built on a foundation of multisensory inclusion and quality, only they do not perceive this understanding as being UD in the general and legislative manner. There seems to be an apparent gap between their values, methods and architectural thinking and the legislative framework in which UD is presented and perceived currently in Norway and Denmark. Through an example of a cultural heritage (CH) project by the Danish architect Merete Lind Mikkelsen, the article demonstrates how it is possible to interpret UD in CH practice without compromising architectural quality or UD, but rather expand and develop the architectural understanding of the possibilities of UD.”

The full document may be access through the Aalborg University site. If you subscribe to ResearchGate or you may be able to access this chapter without needing the whole book.

Published in: Accessibility As a Key Enabling Knowledge for Enhancement of Cultural Heritage, 2016, p. 115-130. 

Architecture competitions for UD: codes or innovation?

picture of a modern building Norway Opera HouseHow juries assess universal design in architectural school competitions is critical to the level of innovation that can be expected. Norwegian Leif D. Houck gives an excellent analysis of how competitions are run today and how they can be improved for the future.  The following excerpt from the introductory section provides a good overview and direction of the discussion in the article. We would do well to take up the recommendations here in Australia.

“The very reason to organize an architectural competition is to achieve maximum quality in a project. The idea is not to have a competition to see if anyone manages to comply the regulations, building codes and the competition brief. No, the idea is to achieve qualities beyond the regulations. An architectural competition will most likely result in different designs and solutions – with different qualities. Additionally, a project’s development from developing the building program until the building stage contains stages in which the project is in process and will (hopefully) be improved. Lid’s approach to look at Universal Design at different levels from strategic to instrumental, is useful in the discussion of what level Universal Design should be solved in architectural competitions. Which challenges should be solved in the competition stage, and which challenges can be solved in the development of the winner project.”

You can download the full article, How Juries Assess UD in Norwegian Architectural School CompetitionsThe article was published in Universal Design 2016: Learning from the Past, Designing for the Future H. Petrie et al. (Eds.) © 2016  

The picture is of the Oslo Opera House

This article is published online with Open Access by IOS Press and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License 4.0 (CC BY-NC 4.0). doi:10.3233/978-1-61499-684-2-229


Measuring up for luminance contrast

Grand staircase in a heritage building showing a blue carpeted staircase and a mural at the top of the flight. As our populations age we will have more people experiencing low vision. This means that contrasts between objects will become an increasingly important factor in negotiating the built environment. Although standards stipulate a certain luminance contrast and levels of light (lux) for buildings, how are they measured, who measures them, and what are they measured with? This issue was investigated by a team in Norway using staircases for the case studies. They found that the tools used by builders and planners vary, and this results in different contrast and light readings for the same staircase. Other variables were also found to influence the readings, such as reflection or glare from overhead lighting. Sunny or cloudy conditions, the shadow of the measurer when measuring, and different angles and positions of the meter all bring different results.

stairs-red-and-blue-1611679__180The findings and conclusion of the study raise an important question: Are the staircases as bad as they seem in terms of not meeting the legislative requirements? Or are the requirements too difficult to fulfil? The team concluded that the answer lies with a representative group of people with low vision guiding them on understanding usability. Another case of standards being useful but not entirely effective – the users have the answer once again.

The article, Planning and Measuring Luminance Contrast in Staircases contains charts, graphs and pictures that illustrate their methods and results. The article is free to download.

L.D. Houck1 , K. Gundersen, O. Strengen: Universal Design 2016: Learning from the Past, Designing for the Future. H. Petrie et al. (Eds.)

This article is published online with Open Access by IOS Press and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License 4.0 (CC BY-NC 4.0). doi:10.3233/978-1-61499-684-2-382