Architectural wayfinding

a circular maze or labyrinth with a person looking into it Wayfinding is often thought of as signage, but it is much more than that. Legibility of the environment is probably a better term. The way a building or outdoor space is designed can make a big difference to the way users experience the space or place. Susan Hunter in her article for the IDeA Center, University at Buffalo, says, “Good architectural wayfinding design is important to universal design because it facilitates user access, increases satisfaction and reduces stigma and isolation of users with disabilities.” The article on the udeworld website has a table of architectural wayfinding components, and has some best practice and practical applications. The article concludes with a set of design guidelines.


Equity, health and high density living

landscape view of tower buildings in the distance and green parkland in the foregroundAccording to research by Susan Thompson and Gregory Paine, lower income and disadvantaged households feel the negative impacts of high density living more than others. They conclude that “blindly pursuing a uniform denser city agenda will only reinforce and exacerbate health inequalities”.The concept of universal design captures the healthy built environment agenda along all other aspects of urban planning and design. Steinfeld and Maisel (2012) define universal design as “a process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, health and wellness, and social participation”. Urban environments should be suitable for all, not just for some.  See the article, which first featured in The Conversation, for more detail. Susan Thompson and Gregory Paine are part of the City Futures Research Centre at University of New South Wales.


Making Mosques Accessible

People at the mosque door taking off their shoes. One person is sittingThe classic design of a mosque makes access difficult for people who have difficulty with mobility, removing shoes, hearing the call to prayer, and generally using facilities. The three critical elements of mosque architecture are the prayer hall, the ablution area and sanitary facilities. People are not allowed to enter with a personal mobility device or shoes. This is to stop dirt from the outside entering the mosque. The United Arab Emirates, and Dubai in particular, is keen to promote the inclusion of people with disability in all aspects of life. Consequently, the Ministry of Community Development commissioned the development of a plan to achieve access for all. That includes mosques. As a result, Nazem Fawzi Al-Mansoor has come up with a checklist for achieving greater access to mosques. 

Pictures are of the Bolo Hauz Mosque, Bukhara, Uzbekistan.


Performance codes and UD in architecture

A floor plan drawing with a black penAll 700 Danish architectural firms were invited to participate in a research study on how they experience the accessibility requirements of the Danish Building Regulations. The analysis showed that participants thought a performance-based model would be better suited to support “accessibility zoning”. However, this model would not in itself promote inclusive architecture. The authors of Do Performance-Based Codes Support Universal Design in Architecture, claim that this is partly because professionals’ understanding was client orientated rather than citizen orientated. Also, architects’ understanding of inclusiveness was relatively limited. See the article for more.

Abstract. The research project ‘An analysis of the accessibility requirements’
studies how Danish architectural firms experience the accessibility requirements of the Danish Building Regulations and it examines their opinions on how future regulative models can support innovative and inclusive design – Universal Design (UD). The empirical material consists of input from six workshops to which all 700 Danish Architectural firms were invited, as well as eight group interviews. The analysis shows that the current prescriptive requirements are criticized for being too homogenous and possibilities for differentiation and zoning are required. Therefore, a majority of professionals are interested in a performance-based model because they think that such a model will support ‘accessibility zoning’, achieving flexibility because of different levels of accessibility in a building due to its performance. The common understanding of accessibility and UD is directly related to buildings like hospitals and care centers. When the objective is both innovative and inclusive architecture, the request of a performance-based model should be followed up by a knowledge enhancement effort in the building sector. Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives is suggested as a tool for such a boost. 


Housing design for a decent life

street scene at twilight with modern medium density apartmentsLiving a “decent life” depends on whether you have the capabilities to have a decent life. This is the proposition of Nobel prize-winning economist and philosopher, Amartya Sen. Doing the things we value, having freedoms and pursuing our goals are all part of having a decent life according to Sen (2009). But lack of money and freedom, and barriers to participation limit that capability. Being unable to live a decent life impacts on socialisation, mental health and general wellbeing. In their article Housing design for socialisation and wellbeing, Lai and Rios discuss direct and indirect factors in housing design that relate to mental health. They have produced a toolkit, Happy Homes: A toolkit for building sociability through multi-family housing design as a result of their research. The authors drew inspiration from the North Vancouver Active Design Guidelines for their toolkit. They have distilled their research into 10 key principles that relate more to the location and design of the neighbourhood rather than the home itself: 

  1. Doing things together: Provide spaces that increase opportunities for residents to interact and do enjoyable things together.
  2. Exposure: Define private, semi-private, and public spaces to enhance residents’ sense of privacy and control over their exposure to others.
  3. Tenure: Enhance design and policy measures that will allow residents to remain in their community, as social connections and trust are reinforced over time.
  4. Social group size: Social group size affects the quality of social interactions and relationships – use of private, semi-private, and public spaces, as well as the clustering of homes into groups.
  5. Feeling of safety: Environments that feel safe encourage people to build positive relationships with each other.
  6. Participation: Residents participating in the design and management of their living environment allow for social interaction and increased sense of belonging.
  7. Walkability: Neighborhoods with mixed-used spaces that encourage walking increase social interaction.
  8. Nature: Exposure to green spaces and residents participating in the care of green spaces promotes social wellbeing.
  9. Comfort: Pleasant and comfortable environments encourage people to socialize with each other.
  10. Culture and values: Places that reflect people’s identity, culture, and values enhances their attachment to places and increases their sense of belonging.



UD Supporters – take this survey

architectural plansA team at Deakin University are conducting a survey on universal design. Below is an introduction and the link will take you to the necessary long ethics document with a button at the bottom of the page that will then take you to the survey. The title of the study is, Evaluating Universal Design in the Built Environment.

“We are seeking input from individuals with an interest in or experience of applying &/or evaluating Universal Design in built environments. This research aims to identify approaches currently used to evaluate how Universal Design is applied to the built environment. Findings have the potential to increase uptake of Universal Design by industry professionals, governments and community members, and to enhance social participation for everyone, particularly people with disabilities.

The survey typically takes 10-15 minutes to complete. If you would like to take part in the survey, please click here.

The survey closes 31st August, 2017. If you have any questions contact Valerie Watchorn, Principal Researcher at, or call +61 3 5227 8069.


Feeling welcome in public space

A woman sits on seat in front of a white weatherboard building. She is facing the road. There is another seat nearby and a small shrub in a pot set between the seatsHow does urban design make you feel? A survey of more than 5000 people carried out by Center for Active Design provides some answers. Using photos of public spaces respondents gave quantifiable answers about the welcoming feel of the space. Three of the key features were seating, plantings, and lighting. The full results are published under the title The Assembly Civic Engagement Survey. The findings are separated into three key areas: park design and maintenance, neighbourhood order and disorder, and welcoming civic spaces and buildings. The findings show how simple interventions can make a big difference in how people perceive their cities, and that having a place to sit is one of them. You can read the overview in an article by FastCoDesign, Science is Proving Why Urban Design Matters More Than Ever.

For more on what makes a place welcoming for older people (and therefore everyone), see COTA NSW Liveable Communities Age-Friendly Checklist.