Does universal design cost more in buildings?

xxxSupporters 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. 

There is a very readable (simplified) news article in the Canadian Architect magazine, titled, Inclusive and Accessible Buildings Can be Constructed at No Additional Cost.  Or you can download the full research report, Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification Cost Comparison Feasibility Study.

 

Universal Design Fact Sheet

Aerial view of Melbourne Park tennis precinct.The Victorian State Government has an easy to read two-page fact sheet on universal design. It relates to sport and recreation, but the content can be applied to other areas of the built environment. It’s based on the classic seven principles of universal design and shows how they can be interpreted and applied in sport and recreation. 

The first page briefly explains universal design and how it is different to accessible design. Costs, if any, are also explained. It is a good document for government procurement purposes where suppliers are required to adhere to universal design principles in their design and supply. The fact sheet is available on the publications and resources section of the Victorian Government website. There’s also the Design for Everyone Guide with an accompanying video.

 

Ageing in the right place

Front cover showing the four steps.Advocates are calling for all new homes to include universal design features, but what about current homes? Even if occupants decide to renovate and include such features, how will they know what might be needed? The My Home My Choices tool can help.

The tool has four steps: individual wants and issues; opportunities for improvement in the home and lifestyle: different options for maximising the use and value of the home; and other choices such as moving, sharing, home modifications and home support. This well researched tool is easily adapted from this New Zealand model. 

Another research group has developed a prototype web application to use at home when needed, over time and at the user’s own pace. It consists of three modules Think, Learn and Act to facilitate awareness, offer information and knowledge and enable the user to decide and act on issues relating to housing. Topics are: preferences, the home, the neighbourhood, health status, social network and support, financial situation, the future, options for help and support and housing options.

A poor fit between the home and what older people need can lead to unnecessary care needs, loneliness, worse quality of life, increased caregiver time and early institutionalisation. 

 

Innovative Solutions with UD

Long view of the inside of an airport building.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.

Universally Designed Digital Life

Opening frame of the video: Universal Design of ICT - a better digital life.This short video about universal design and communications technology is powerful in its simplicity. The concepts can be applied to anything. One of the best explanations around. Great for introducing the idea of inclusion and universal design to others. A good example of a universally designed video and universally designed explanation as well.

Oslo University is offering a Masters course in UD of ICT.

Principles of inclusive design

page from the booklet with the explanation of how developments will turnout if inclusive design principles are used.Universal design is diverse in its terminology and explanations. Those who prefer “inclusive” design will also have their take on this. The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) describes inclusive design as: 

“Inclusive design is about making places everyone can use. It enables everyone to participate equally, confidently and independently. Inclusive design is everyone’s responsibility. That means everyone in the design and construction process”. CABE has a booklet explaining each of the principles of inclusive design in more detail and with photos:

1. Inclusive design places people at the heart of the design process.
2. Inclusive design acknowledges diversity and difference.
3. Inclusive design offers choice where a single design solution cannot accommodate all users
4. Inclusive design provides for flexibility in use.
5. Inclusive design provides buildings and environments that are convenient and enjoyable to use for everyone

CABE says, if the principles are applied, developments will be:

Inclusive so everyone can use them safely, easily and with dignity.
Responsive taking account of what people say they need and want.
Flexible so different people can use them in different ways.
Convenient so everyone can use them without too much effort or separation.
Accommodating for all people, regardless of their age, gender, mobility,
ethnicity or circumstances.
Welcoming with no disabling barriers that might exclude some people.
Realistic offering more than one solution to help balance everyone’s needs
and recognising that one solution may not work for all.

At the heart of all explanations is the quest for inclusion – to include as many people as possible in every design. The list above has similarities with the classic 7 principles of universal design and the 8 goalsBarclays Bank also has a set of principles for inclusive design for the digital world

Critical Design for Universal Design

Four pictures of workshop outcomes explained in the article.What happens if architecture, interior design, engineering and product design students spend a week together to investigate the design of the built environment? The answer is in a paper by Anne Britt Torkildsby. A week of critical design workshops provoked reflection, awareness, empathy and action among the next generation of designers involved in the built environment. By turning design upside down and deliberately creating designs that were impossible or difficult to use, the students learned to take multiple perspectives. The paper provides details of the workshops and the processes, and the outcomes for the students and their designs. The picture shows four of the designs discussed in the article.

Editor’s note: I liked the narrow doorway with a sticky floor that made entry difficult. The designs went on exhibition and others could experience first hand the difficulties and frustration people with different disabilities might have with a design.

The title of the paper isEmpathy Enabled by Critical Design – A New Tool in the Universal Design Toolbox. The article is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication. 

Invisible and Ubiquitous: UD at its best

The entry to Stortinget metro in Olso showing the uncluttered design with easy access for everyone.Universal design can be embedded in refurbishments and upgrades without anyone noticing. Using a case study of a train station in Norway, Richard Duncan explains how it was done. Norway is a global leader in implementing UD strategies. Their landmark document, Norway Universally Designed by 2025, focuses on inclusive policies where everyone is made responsible. Two surveys from 2018 reveal a gradual change in attitude about universal design. More people understand the concept and agree with the principle of, “Universal design is necessary for some and useful for many”. 

Duncan’s article, Right Under Your Nose: Universal Design in Norway is an easy to read article and is based on Olav Rand Bringa’s work. There is more on this website about the work of Bringa that traces the history of universal design in Norway.

Universal Design and Visitability: From accessibility to zoning.  

Progress on Universal Design in Norway: A review 

Universal Design as a Technical Norm and Juridical Term – A Factor of Development or Recession? Bringa discusses the importance of language in the quest for inclusion.  

Photo by Olav Rand Bringa showing the improved and uncluttered entrance to the station.

Creating inclusive environments with UD

Ed Steinfeld holding his book next to his face.Published in 2012, Steinfeld and Maisel’s book, Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments, is still relevant today as a standard text. It introduces designers to the principles and practice of designing for all people. it covers the full range from the foundations of accessibility to the practice of inclusive design. Topics include interiors, products, housing and transportation systems. Best practice examples demonstrate the value of universal design as both a survey of the field and reference for researchers. Trove has a copy, otherwise it is available for purchase through Google Books or Wiley publishing.  Steinfeld and Maisel have published numerous books and articles and you can find these on the IDeA website

Buildings for Everyone NZ style

Front cover of the resourceThe New Zealand Government has a new guide to support their building code, Buildings for everyone: Designing for access and usability.  It’s a good practice guide which goes into fine detail. For example, for entrances it gives reasons why revolving doors are not a good idea, problems with sudden changes in light levels, issues with highly patterned flooring, and how wheelchair users might inadvertently damage doorways or tiling. The guide also links to features to the relevant sections of the Building Code. The main contents are:

  1. Builder user activity
  2. Surrounding area and transport
  3. Pedestrian circulation
  4. Vehicle circulation and parking
  5. Building entrances
  6. Internal circulation
  7. Interior space
  8. Fixtures and fittings
  9. Building types
  10. Means of escape 
  11. Building management

This guide explains the “why” of the specific designs. So there should be no more thinking, “near enough is good enough because a little change here and there won’t matter”. It does matter. The publication is from the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.