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 This means some of the technology, such as parking ticket machines is a little outdated.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.
It isn’t just about consulting with humans in the design process. It is about understanding the impact that design has on us as humans. Sarah Williams Goldhagen argues that people undervalue good design. There is no such thing a neutral when it comes to design of the built environment. It has either a positive or negative effect on people. A place should inspire uses and bypassers. If it doesn’t support what people need to do then it is eroding wellbeing and impoverishing people’s lives. This is especially the case when you can’t even get into a place or space because it is inaccessible. Goldhagen goes on to say that good design is less about personal taste and more about human bodies and minds. Goldhagen’s article is in the Journal of Urban Design and Mental Health. It is titled, What is Human-Centered Design? Should Anyone Care?
A related article about designing cities so we can sleep well is also worth a read, Sanity and Urbanity.
Book reviews can reveal good information in their own right. One such case is the review of Aimi Hamraie’s book, Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability. The book traces the history of universal design from the 1950s in the United States to current ideas. Hamraie discusses issues from both a design and a disability perspective. This is an academic text that would be of value to both design and disability studies. Other articles about Hamraie posted previously are:
In most countries new shopping complexes must comply with current disability access standards. However, that doesn’t guarantee a comfortable, safe or convenient shopping experience for everyone. An article published in Sustainability discusses the adaptation of the classic principles of universal design to suit shopping environments. Usability, safety and comfort were seen as the key design elements. The article includes a literature review and a study of six shopping malls. Although the study was carried out in a developing country, Iraqi Kurdistan, the model and survey results are applicable anywhere. However, it provides useful information for those designing buildings in this context. It is good to see a detailed review of shopping complex design, and a model for design criteria.
The title of the article is an indicator that it contains some technical data, but most of the article is readable: “Using Structural Equation Modeling to Propose a Model for Shopping Complex Design Based on Universal Design Concept”. A very useful document for designers of all public buildings.
The picture is of the Family Mall, one of those included in the study.
The latest edition of the access consultants association newsletter has three articles worth a mention. Andrew Stewart gives the low-down on the Basics of Hearing Augmentation; Bruce Bromley goes into specific detail about stairway nosing strips; and Michael Small discusses international best practice for access to buildings for people with disability. As an association newsletter there are in-house articles and information as well. This includes the upcoming conference ACESSS 2019 to be held at Luna Park in Sydney in August.