Tomorrow’s Homes: A sustainability perspective

Tomorrows Homes front coverUniversal design in housing faces the same policy and industry challenges as the sustainability movement. Consumers are unclear about their choice, and confused by terminology and rating systems. Home builders are locked into supply chains that limit innovation, and financial institutions can’t see the value of such designs. 

The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) has devised a policy framework for transitioning to sustainable homes. It identifies five key actions:

    1. National leadership
    2. Benchmarking and upskilling
    3. Building a foundation of leading homes
    4. Engaging consumers
    5. Leveraging finance

Tomorrow’s homes: A policy framework outlines how the structure of the housing industry creates restrictions on doing anything differently. It also has suggestions for appealing to consumers by using language they relate to. Comfortable, healthy, affordable, easy to use – in short, appealing to their aspirations. Consumers don’t frame their aspirations in words such as sustainable, accessible, or universal design. And they don’t aspire to ageing or disability.

The document concludes with a call for home builders to engage in the sustainable housing market now rather than wait for regulation. However, a voluntary approach hasn’t turned out well for accessible housing. 

Anyone interested in the housing market and housing policy will find this a useful document. Easy to read and well laid out it argues the case for policy reform in housing design. 

For a crash course in housing policy, sign up to CUDA’s free housing policy online learning: Home Coming? Framing housing policy for the future

UD for a social and sustainable life

A long ladder is resting against the gutter of a two storey houseThe word “sustainability” mostly conjures up notions of clean and green, but social sustainability – an aspect just as important – has been left out of mainstream discussions. This point is made in Universal Design as a Significant Component for Sustainable Life and Social Development. The authors argue that both home and neighbourhood need to be considered for a socially sustainable environment. An evolving criteria for social sustainability is access to facilities and amenities that are vital for people to run errands and do all the everyday things. Going to the shops, a medical appointment, or the cinema should be available to all no matter their age or circumstances. There are useful explanatory graphs in this in-depth paper that emphasises well-being, safety and accessibility. The authors sum up in the conclusion, “The social aspect of sustainability should be emphasized in the mainstream discussion on sustainability because it influences human behaviour and quality of life in many ways”. They also point out that it is environmentally unsustainable to build homes that need major modifications, “which causes pollution, hazardous construction equipment and material and inappropriate methods of wastage removal”. The article can also be found in Asian Journal of Environment-Behaviour Studies.

Abstract: Universally designed environment provides comfort, adaptability and flexibility that can help to reduce human life cycle impact and encourage residents’ participation in the community. With that, the purpose of this conceptual study is to explore the concept of Universal Design (UD) as a significant aspect of social sustainability, based on professional practitioners’ and scholarly views. UD implementation in built environment may cater the needs of diverse users over the changing abilities throughout lifespan. This study concludes that UD has evolved as a significant component for sustainable life and social development within the individual’s own dwelling and the community as well.

Comprehensive Universal Design

Indian hotel swimming pool at sunset.Comprehensive Universal Design is a concept from India. It refers to the classic principles of universal design, concepts of sustainability, and culture. It takes a “country-centric approach which considers poverty, caste, class, religion, background both rural and urban”. Weaving in cultural aspects such as poverty and religion takes universal design thinking another inclusive step forward. 

A Conceptual Framework for Barrier Free Hotels in Smart Cities covers most of the basics written in many other papers about universal design. It links it to the hotel and tourism industry and all the economic benefits that can bring. The article proposes a conceptual framework to explain.

Abstract: Cities are key for business, Job creation, and the growth of society. The Government of India planned to develop smart cities which are sustainable, inclusive and act as a reference for other aspiring cities. Smart cities in India will work on four principles such as wellbeing of habitants, equity, foresight and efficiency. Existing laws and design principles can act as a hurdle in achieving the four principles laid down. The principles of Universal Design (UD) are user centric, work on the social goals of inclusion, equality and independence. Universal Design India Principle (UDIP) is a set of design principles that focus on a country centric approach which considers culture, caste, poverty, class, and religion. There is an overwhelming need for environmentally sustainable designs for hospitality services. Considering the current requirements, a conceptual framework ‘Comprehensive Universal Design (CUD)’ has been proposed which includes principles of UD, UDIP and environmental sustainability. Adopting comprehensive universal design principles in the hotels in smart city will help the planners to realise equity, quality of life, social inclusion and environmental sustainability.

The article is by Partho Pratim Sea*P. Senthil Kumaran

An accessible campus is part of sustainability

Edifice of a federation stone building with arched entrance with step leading to it.Linking “sustainability” with universal design is not a new idea, especially when thinking about social sustainability. A new book,Towards Green Campus Operations, includes a chapter that moves away from “green” to social sustainability. The argument is that making the campus more universally accessible is a sustainability exercise. The more accessible the campus is, the more likely the students are to enroll and, more importantly, finish their course. This is good for the university and sustains their student intake and retention. The authors also argue that academics need to be educated about this issue too. The chapter, “Educational Institutions and Universal Accessibility: In Search of Sustainability on University Campus”, is available through Springer Link.

Abstract: The paper reports proposals and solutions of the design and implementation for universal accessibility at the university campus, complying with current legislation and community demands. It addresses the challenges of raising academic awareness about the subject and of the accessible route project overcoming the campus large dimensions, urbanized areas and rugged topography. It is the result of a project and an accessible route shared through pedestrian and motorized routes and with its implantation overcoming barriers in the implementation. The theme was conducted with a focus on social sustainability, as it is a requirement to obtain the universal and legitimate right to higher education and the benefits of the university campus as a community educational, environmental and leisure urban equipment. The results of the article demonstrate that universal accessibility, more than a legal requirement for educational institutions, contributes to social sustainability. The spatial adequacies allow the universalization of the possibility of entry and stay of persons with disabilities or reduced mobility in the university campus, expanding their training at an higher level. 

Can UD create social sustainability?

aerial view of a big city with skyscrapersApplying the principles of universal design at the formation stage of planning can lead to harmonious, accessible, sustainable and healthy cities.This is the conclusion of a European study. The study looked at the design and development of city space from the perspective of the varying levels of human capabilities. The overall aim of the research was to raise the quality of urban planning, and to develop tools for healthy cities compatible with the principles of sustainability. You can download the PDF of Sustainable Urban Development: Spatial Analyses as Novel Tools for Planning a Universally Designed City, by Joanna Borowczyk, in EconPapers, 2018, vol. 10, issue 5, 1-16.

Climate Change includes everyone

View of a cyclone forming taken from space.In her introduction to Disability Inclusion in Climate Change: Impacts and Intersections, Marsha Saxton begins, “Mention “climate change and disability” and most people are immediately puzzled— it’s an issue that has often never occurred to them…” This is an article about the right to be rescued. Saxton argues that while people are now aware of this group, they are somewhat at a loss about what to do. Disaster guidelines and related literature talks of “people with access and functional needs” and “individuals requiring additional assistance”, but this terminology has not entered the climate change literature. This is quite a long article, but comprehensive, including responsibilities under the UN Conventions for Climate Change and for Persons with Disability. The article concludes, “Responses will require large-scale initiatives, focused actions and strong collaborations between stakeholders across the climate and disability spectrum. It is fortunate that those currently addressing climate change and disability, respectively, are well-engaged with a social justice framework. Both groups must understand the scope and complexities between climate change and disability. The key is thus to educate and activate these stakeholders to develop strategies to safeguard people with disabilities as climate change unfolds.”  

Cognition and inclusive design

An older man sits with his back to the camera in a cafePractitioners and researchers are seeking more solutions for people with sensory and cognitive impairments, particularly dementia. But our building standards are silent on this growing issue. The value of designing an age-friendly environment is discussed in an article by Hadjri, Afacan, and Gadakari. As with all universal design features, the authors argue inclusion needs to be embedded in the early stages of design. See the abstract below for more on the content.

Front cover of the bookIt is good to see the topic nestling between chapters on passive design and energy efficiency. The chapter “Inclusive Design” unexpectedly appears in ZEMCH: Toward the Delivery of Zero Energy Mass Custom Homes, and is available from SpringerLink and ResearchGate.

Abstract: This chapter will explain and discuss the principles, role and importance of Inclusive Design particularly in the context of an ageing society. It will review the changing and complex user needs and requirements through case studies and current work of leading organizations. Current standards used in the UK and elsewhere will be reviewed to establish whether they need to take into account sensory and cognitive impairments into consideration. So far, these have not been fully accepted by industry and practice and more needs to be done by policy makers. Findings of recent research on users’ needs and requirements will be reviewed to highlight the needs for more inclusivity in the design of the built environment. Additionally, barrier-free design and Inclusive Design will be further examined to assess the use of technology in embedding accessibility during the design stage. This chapter will allow students, lecturers and designers to understand the value and purpose of Inclusive Design and its potential to provide an accessible and age-friendly built environment.

You will need institutional access for a free read, otherwise purchase the chapter. You can also try ResearchGate to ask for a free read.