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

Shopping – a holistic approach to the issues

overhead picture of the fresh food section of a supermarketShopping is one activity most people engage in. While younger people talk of retail therapy, for older people it becomes an important social activity, particularly those who live alone. Elnaz Davoudi from the San Francisco State University conducted an in-depth study of older people.  This included shadowing them as they made their way around a supermarket. The whole experience is documented and their are several design conclusions to be drawn from this work. Shopping carts, check outs, product packaging and much more are open for improved designs. The findings can also be generalised to other design disciplines. It is good to see a holistic approach in this research, not just the design of, say, a shopping trolley, or the product packaging.

Survey of architects on UD education and implementation

architecture blueprint with rule and pencilThis paper reports on a survey of architects, architecture educators, and architectural technologists in Ireland to find out how they are dealing with the implementation of universal design principles. The researchers sought to address the following questions in the survey:

1. How inherent is Universal Design knowledge to current building design practice?

2. What are the current Universal Design education and training needs of Architects and Architectural Technologists practising in Ireland?

3. Which Universal Design themes and topics are of most interest to Architects and Architectural Technologists practising in Ireland?

4. To what extent does existing CPD for Architects and Architectural Technologists practising in Ireland address Universal Design topics?

5. What can motivate Architects and Architectural Technologists practising in Ireland to access Universal Design CPD?

6. What are the most effective means by which to deliver Universal Design CPD to Architects and Architectural Technologists practising in Ireland?

The survey is one phase of a longer study aimed at providing a research base for developing CPD in Universal Design for Architects and Architectural Technologists practising in Ireland. The title of the article is Universal Design and Continuing Professional Development for Architects: An Irish Case Study.

In Promoting Universal Design in Architectural Education, Jim Harrison, Kevin Busby, and Linda Horgan, argue there are some design tutors who perpetuate negative attitudes toward any change in design thinking or process. Hence they influence their students and practices don’t change. This paper provides an interesting and comprehensive discussion on ways in which architecture and design schools can include universal design into their curricula, and how they can work with other professionals such as occupational therapists who can explain the functionality of designs.Unfortunately this paper is published in a small Italic font and is difficult to read. 

Urban spaces and UD principles

Front cover of TeMA JournalIn spite of any political trouble in Turkey, academics and government staff are working behind the scenes to create universally designed urban environments. Turkey was one of the first signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and this is a likely driver of change. Published in TeMA (Journal of Land Use, Mobility and the Environment), Evaluation of Urban Spaces from the Perspective of Universal Design Principles uses the city of Konya as a case study to evaluate the current situation and pose recommendations for improvements in the public domain. 

This is a good resource for situations where urban designers are yet to address physical access and universal design in the built environment, or have addressed only the minimum access compliance requirements. The many photographs help to explain the issues. The seven principles of universal design are applied in a practical way using examples. The introductory section to the article explains why disability access alone is insufficient, and that inclusion of all people is the aim. Here is a section from the introduction stressing the importance of UD over basic access:

“… [I]t would be rather a discriminatory act to construct disabled-only designs. It would also be another discriminatory policy to establish the kind of institutions that were specifically catered to the use of disabled individuals alone. Disabled individuals themselves vehemently oppose such types of practices and demand to live under equal terms with the rest of citizens. In lieu of such approaches, it would be smarter to arrange the kind of settings and spaces in which all members of the community were comfortable to live collectively. The truth is that rearrangement of physical environment to suit to the easy-use of elderly and disabled individuals would translate to the structuring of physical spaces favorable for all users. In an attempt to generate solutions to the problems met in urban life by elderly and disabled individuals, it would be a reasonable practice to conduct all-inclusive arrangements to reunite urban spaces with the entire community rather than discriminate such individuals. Accordingly, during the stage of planning physical environment spaces, it is advocated to accentuate and employ universal design concept and principles recognized as an all-inclusive design approach integrating the entire community.”

The slippery case of slip resistance

A graph showing slip resistance gradingsRichard Bowman’s recent publication challenges conventional methods of testing tiles for slip resistance. Testing is mostly done in laboratories and the results are used for setting Standards for slip resistance. In real environments, speed of walking, inclines, changes in weather, and cleaning materials among other factors can all have an effect on the slip resistance of tiled surfaces. He argues that these are not always taken into consideration. While his paper is very technical, it is essential reading for anyone involved in access compliance and all round safety for everyone. The title of his paper is, Can we develop slip resistance metrics that ensure appropriate tile selection?  Read to the end to see what he has to say about two popular Australian access guides that cover slip resistance.

Richard Bowman is a ceramic engineer, who spent 30 years working as a principal research scientist at CSIRO – Australia’s national scientific research organisation. Richard also presented a paper at the 2014 Australian Universal Design Conference. 

Extract from Abstract: This paper reviews several aspects of the state of the art of slip resistance testing in the context of trying to identify an ISO testing procedure that would provide suitable metrics for optimising appropriate tile selection. While existing test methods might be represented as being fit for purpose, there are several areas of test protocols that could and should be significantly improved. …While the existing paradigm of solely assessing the ex-factory slip resistance of tiles is flawed and contrary to sensible regulatory measures, new data is required to establish credible evidence-based practicable standards.


Award winning wayfinding design

Deborah Abidakun, recently won an RSA Student Design Award for her wayfinding system design. As a person who is just below average height she found herself on tiptoe trying to understand 3D graphics and at night the lack of lighting made reading difficult. So Deborah started to wonder how others found these signs. This led her to carry out research around the existing pedestrian wayfinding system. Deborah’s winning design was based on enhancing the Transport for London system. Find out more by going to the article – the illustration below has two more screens that help with the explanation.a prototype accessible wayfinding post and panel


Ups and downs of stairway design

Three steps into a building with tactile markers on every step and a narrow handrail on each side which does not continue to the last stepOne way of examining how architects view the design of stairways is to analyse the photographs used as illustrations in a prominent architectural magazine. The illustrations potentially serve as examples of best practice, but Karen Kim and Ed Steinfeld found that the illustrations left much to be desired. The point is made that if safe and inclusive features are not apparent in major industry journals and magazines, how can we hope to improve practice in the professions?

In their article, An Evaluation of Stairway Designs Featured in Architectural Record between 2000 and 2012, they found the lack of handrails occurred most often. The article includes several photographs and a list of the missing safety features. Also available on ReseachGate

The Australian Human Rights Commission produced a document in 2008, “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”, and it focuses on stairways and the placement of tactiles, handrails, and contrasting nosings – a good reference guide on what not to do.

I took this photograph in Australia and shows tactile ground surface indicators (tgsi) being used wrongly on steps, but ironically nicely contrasted. The owner believed tgsi are for slip resistance. Can you spot the other mistake? People forget the ground level is a step and therefore the handrail should extend to the footpath in this case. The diameter of the handrail is also problematic. Editor.

Public wayfinding “in-the-wild” study

Picture of railway station and successive dynamic signs at each platform entrancePublic displays are becoming more sophisticated, animated and dynamic, but are not often used for wayfinding. Three architecture researchers from University of Leuven in Belgium conducted an “in-the-wild” study at a railway station to test various display designs to see which would give the best wayfinding information.

The method and results are carefully documented with some interesting findings and conclusions. Graphics, charts and photographs add to the explanations and considerations for designers in the use of symbols, colours and spatial distributions.

Perhaps not surprisingly, they discovered that different people have different ways of seeing, using, and interpreting signage and wayfinding cues.

The study by Coenen, Wouters, and Vande Moere is Synchronized Wayfinding on Multiple Consecutively Situated Public Displays.

Also available from the Research Gate site.

Architecture student attitudes

Faculty of Architecture University at Buffalo State University of New YorkOne way of encouraging and increasing the uptake of universal design strategies, is the education of architecture students. This is probably one of the first studies of its type in the area of how introducing students to the principles of universal design can have a positive effect on attitudes towards people with disability.

Published in the Journal of Accessibility and Design for All, the authors, Hitch, Dell and Larkin from Deakin University, also review some of the related literature. The title of the article is, Does Universal Design Education Impact on the Attitudes of Architecture Students Towards People with Disability

From the Abstract: The aim of this study was to investigate the attitudes of architecture students towards people with a disability, comparing those who received inter-professional universal design education with those who had not. Architecture students who had previously participated in inter-professional universal design education had significantly less negative attitudes. This study suggests education around universal design may promote more positive attitudes towards people with a disability for architecture students.