Joining the dots between all aspects of the built environment is not easy task. So the Whole Building Design Guide is a welcome resource. It is a collaboration among stakeholders and government agencies in the US. It could be titled, Building Design as a Whole.
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.
Minimum access standards for the built environment do not guarantee accessibility. Unfortunately, we still have designers who aren’t interested in best practice, just ticking the compliance box. It also means that access is a last thought and remedies, such as ramps, are tacked onto the “grand design”. But universal design should be the grand design if we want equitable and dignified use by all.
The Access to Premises Standard of 2011 has improved accessibility to new buildings, but it is not the total answer. They only go part way in creating inclusive environments.An article in Sourceable addresses some of the issues and the myths that remain within the property industry. The myths are explained in detail in the article and are listed below:
Access is the same as universal design.
Universal design in more expensive than access.
The Australian Standard for Access considers all people with disability.
The dimensions in the Australian Standard provide independent access for everyone.
Minimum compliance guarantees all people with disability cannot use everything in a building.
Access consultants know everything about access, disability and universal design.
Is the built environment designed for social distancing in a pandemic? The quick retrofitting in buildings and outdoor spaces, indicates pandemics were not envisaged in designs. But the pandemic has revealed many problems experienced by people before it struck. Being stuck at home for a long time is one of them. Not being able to access cafes is another. People with mobility restrictions in particular are saying, “welcome to my world”.
Being isolated at home because you can’t physically get out is not new to everyone. An article in Sourceable, People, Pandemics and Premises,discusses some of the issues the pandemic has highlighted. Here are some points to consider:
Plastic screens at customer service counters make it difficult for people with hearing loss.
Face masks make lip-reading impossible and muffles speech.
Lack of door automation means touching door handles.
Narrow footpaths and internal corridors make social distancing impossible.
The height of take-away counters in cafes make ordering difficult from a seated position and difficult to hear each other.
Self-serve counters and check-outs are preferred now, but the space is too small to include mobility devices.
The design of housing also gets a mention and the recent “bean counter” approach to universal design in housing doesn’t take account of the pandemic. And this will not be the one and only time we have a pandemic. Our homes are now school rooms, workplaces and refuges. Apart from general accessibility for everyone, the pandemic requires us to re-think the 1950s “ideal” home design. It’s time for some real universal design thinking.
Standards for the built environment tell you how to comply with minimum requirements. But compliance does not equal usability or convenience for everyone. A guide book from Ireland on the built environment draws together Irish standards with a practical universal design approach. Many of the standards mirror those in Australia so most of the information is compatible. Parking, siting, pedestrian movement, steps, ramps, lifts, seating and bollards are all covered.
Building for Everyone, External environment and approach covers each of the features in detail. While the style of tactile indicators varies from the Australian design, the advice on placement is still useful. There is a reference list of related documents including Australian Standards. The guide is undated, but probably published circa 2010. This means some of the technology, such as parking ticket machines is a little outdated.
There is also a section at the end on human abilities and design. It covers walking, balance, handling, strength and endurance, lifting, reaching, speech, hearing, sight, touch and more.
Can universal design be regarded as a science? As more guidelines are produced with technical specifications, there’s a danger that the spirit of the concept is getting lost. When we drill down to the skills required to design inclusively we find it goes beyond well-meaning guidelines. This is what makes designing universally a science.
Reporting on case study of a design proposal for a floating sea terminal in the Grand Harbour in Malta, Lino Bianco explains why. The case study also includes a heritage centre, a maintenance workshop and offices. The article details technical aspects supported by drawings and design considerations.
Bianco begins with the background to universal design and how it relates to EU and the Maltese context. As a member state of the EU, Malta is obliged to follow the legal requirements for accessibility and inclusion.
Bianco argues that the universal design philosophy has evolved into the systematic development of design guidelines. Consequently, the guidelines have become mandatory for built infrastructure projects. This has lead to a compliance approach which is contrary to the original aims of universal design. This is why the holistic application of universal design principles is a science not a format.
His concluding comments propose that universal design should be descriptive and not prescriptive. “Adopting a performance-based approach is what UD as an applied science involves. It leads to designs with inclusive environs beyond the prescriptive requirement at law”.
Abstract: Universal Design (UD) philosophy is inspired by the social responsibility that no discrimination is present in the use of the built environment. During recent decades UD philosophy led to a systematic development of design guidelines for architectural and urban projects aimed at rendering the built environment accessible to all. In Malta, such guidelines are endorsed by central and local government entities and nongovernmental organizations and they are covered by legislation which i s actively enforced. Moreover, the law stipulates that the planning regulator makes it mandatory that a given development permission complies with these guidelines. This ensures that no barriers can hinder the usage of a given development. The objective of this paper is to demonstrate that UD is not only a legal requisite emerging from a socially sensitive design philosophy and grounded in official design standards that ensure legal compliance, but an applied science aimed at ensuring mobility for all. Using a case study from this European Union Member State, this paper argues that setting the focus on technical specifications relating to access for all falls short of addressing the inherent interdependencies; consequently, it does not tackle UD issues. UD goes beyond the prescriptive requirement established by law and underpins a performance-based design, thereby intrinsically enhancing the quality of any given element, whether a space or a product. UD is an applied scientific discipline; it is a multifaceted, interdisciplinary branch of learning. It involves the application of current formal scientific knowledge to pragmatic scenarios in order to attain contextual specific solutions. UD is not just an applied design philosophy; it is an applied science integrating anthropometrics, medicine and design; it is universal design science.
Bianco, L. (2020). Universal design: from design philosophy to applied science. Journal of Accessibility and Design for All, 10 (1), 70-97
Supporters of universal design have long argued that it costs little, if any more, to make buildings inclusive and accessible. However, myths about cost remain and are perpetuated across the construction industry. A feasibility study by HCMA Architecture + Design for the Rick Hansen Foundation in Canada makes another attempt at the argument. In their report, they compare the Foundation’s certification features with Canada’s building code. Then they determine the cost increase by designing to the Foundation’s certification.
The key finding is similar to others. The average new construction cost increase is estimated to be an additional 1% of the construction in some cases. In others, there is no cost. But there is more to this research which reports on three certification levels and several design elements. The other key point is that the building code alone does not make buildings fully accessible.
There are lots of graphs and drawings and it looks very technical. There are case studies across public, commercial and residential properties. This is a major piece of work at 80 pages with another 200 pages for appendices. Bottom line: the Canadian and Ontario building codes do not meet the needs of people with disability, and accessibility can be achieved with minimal cost impact with thoughtful/universal design.
We need healthy architecture – that is, architecture that supports human health and wellness. Louis Rice claims that human illness is related to the design of the built environment. Key issues are discussed in a book chapter that covers social, mental and physical health and “restorative” design. He proposes a “healthy architecture map” based on materials, environments, agency and behaviours. The title of the chapter is A health map for architecture: The determinants of health and wellbeing in buildings. Abstract is below.
There is more useful information and research in the book including a chapter from Matthew Hutchinson,The Australian dream or a roof over my head. An ecological view of housing for an ageing Australian population.
Abstract: The health crisis facing society, whereby most humans suffer illness, is related to the design of the built environment. The chapter identifies key issues for built environment design professionals to improve the health of architectural environments. The chapter reviews existing medical and public health research to establish evidence-based interrelationships between health and architecture and to define ‘healthy architecture’. ‘Healthy architecture’ goes beyond the relatively narrow focus of physical health, safety regulations or environmental health legislation of much contemporary architectural research. The proposed conceptualisation of ‘healthy architecture’ requires consideration of social, mental and physical health, particularly wellbeing and restorative design. A conceptual framework is generated as a ‘healthy architecture map’ by considering the four principal domains of architectural design related health and wellbeing: materials, environments, agency and behaviours. The ‘healthy architecture map’ can be used by built environment experts, architects, planners, engineers, clients, user groups, public health professionals to inform and improve the design of the built environments to promote and facilitate health and wellbeing.
Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access – IDeA, advocates for socially responsible design to be standard practice. IDeA claim that adoption of UD has been hindered by a lack of detailed guidelines and gaps in training for designers and builders. This is where their Innovative Solutions for Universal Design project, or isUD comes in.
The short video below begins with the basics of universal design and why designs should be inclusive. It then invites viewers to check out over 500 solutions in their online program. The nine chapters based on the 8 goals of universal design cover: design process; space clearances; circulation; environment quality; site; rooms and spaces; furnishings and equipment; services; and policies. The focus is on public and commercial buildings. IDEA, is a research-based organisation based at State University of New York, Buffalo.
Well designed buildings support people with physical impairment, but what about people with other sensory issues or cognitive impairment? Shelly Dival argues that we can do more in the built environment to support people on the autism spectrum in educational, work, and home environments.
One of her insights was the crossover between autism and other neurological conditions including dementia. Designing for neurodiversity rather than specific conditions may be an effective future-proofing strategy that supports everyone. That’s similar to the approach adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in their forthcoming Guidelines on cognitive accessibility, based on the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework.