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. 

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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.

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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

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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.

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Longevity, housing, carrots and sticks

A view of a narrow street with two storey buildings on either side and shops with high rise buildings in the background. With 28% of the population over 65 years, suitable housing is a critical policy area for Japan. In his latest article, Satoshi Kose argues for ageing in place and compares Japan with UK and US housing policy from an ageing perspective. Voluntary guidelines for new housing has not worked and Kose says in his conclusion that viewing housing construction as a booster for economic growth where quality of design is out of question means that “Japan must pay the cost of that ignorance as the country grows older and older.” Australia should heed this warning. The title of the article is, “Housing Design for the Ageing: Struggle Toward Supporting Age-in-Place Instead of Special Housing for Seniors”. The article discusses the attempts made in Japan, UK and US to introduce universal design features but with little success. He concludes we need both carrot and stick approach – regulations and incentives. The housing industry is complex in all three cases and this is why we need both carrot and stick (for our housing donkey?)

Satoshi Kose has been writing and researching housing design over many years. He is Emeritus Professor at Shizuoka University of Art and Culture. This paper was presented at the UDHEIT2018 Conference

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Sea Change or Urban Uplift?

long view of a Perth city mall with shops and cafes under awnings and trees for shade. Tall buildings are in the backgroundA thoughtful article from an architectural group about ageing in the urban context. While some retirees will seek a sea change to resort-style living, others want to stay connected to their families and established neighbourhoods. The article critiques the age-restricted model and proposes alternatives, one of which is flexibility of design across the housing market so that people can receive care at home when it is needed. This fits with the principles of universal design as outlined in the Livable Housing Design Guidelines at Gold level. Other key points are inter-generational interaction, connectivity, inclusion, and proximity to conveniences. A good article on Aged Care Insite from an architect’s perspective. 

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CUDA’s Reponse to Accessible Housing Options Paper

A modern single storey home.Friday 30 November was the cut off date for submissions on the Accessible Housing Options Paper. You can download CUDA’s submission, for reference. For quick reference here is the Executive Summary of CUDA’s response:

“Australia needs housing that is fit for purpose. The preparation for a Regulatory Impact Assessment for a change to the National Construction Code provides a timely opportunity to meet our policy commitments also create housing that suits people across their lifespan. Housing is an important factor in determining our health outcomes and accessibility is recognised by the World Health Organisation as a major element.

Apart from increased size, Australian housing design has changed little in the last 50 or so years, save for fashionable cosmetic changes. Population demographics, community expectations, and the way we live our lives, have changed. Now is the time to be more inclusive in our mass market designs and consider all households – without the need for specialised design. Indeed, the inclusive, universal design approach, underpins the Livable Housing Design Guidelines – the guidelines that were developed by the housing industry.

Taking a disability-only approach as suggested in the Options Paper will discount the other beneficiaries when counting costs and benefits. In the early 2000s researchers called for a change in housing design to reflect an ageing population and our commitment to people with disability. They make the point that designing for these two groups includes convenience for many others, and that costs, if any, are minimal if considered at the outset.

The attempt to effect change through voluntary guidelines has failed. This is not surprising for an industry that relies on mandatory regulation to keep the fragmented house building system running smoothly and to maintain an industry-wide level playing field.

Finding the right terminology will be critical to finding the right outcomes. Misunderstandings about “accessibility” prevail. This term is quickly translated to “disabled design”. When improved access features are included in the NCC, it will become standard Australian Housing and no particular term will be needed. If a particular term is needed for the process of discussing change, we recommend the term “liveable” as in liveable cities. Alternatively we can jump straight to what it is, Australian housing.

The Building Ministers’ Forum (BMF) has asked that the Livable Housing Australia Guidelines at Silver and Gold levels be assessed. These Guidelines are well researched and tested over eight years and are referenced in many government publications and policies. For this reason, we recommend that the Gold level form the minimum requirements for inclusion in the NCC. Many of the elements over and above Silver level are cost neutral, are easy to apply and technically substantiated.

Gold level is framed around mobility issues (mobilising, reaching, bending, grasping).  Other disabilities can be incorporated within these spatial elements.  As these elements are based on the earlier Landcom Guidelines (2008), which were costed, we suggest that these costings be sourced and if necessary, updated.

Housing lies in a complex and contested landscape. While it is important for the industry to make a profit for shareholders, it is also important that they add value to the community from which they draw that profit.” 

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Destinations for All: A Guide

man in a powered wheelchair looking out between Roman columns and across the water in the Roman BathYet another excellent resource for the tourism and travel industry – an industry now leading the way in best practice. Importantly, the principles and learning from case studies can be applied everywhere. The business world should take note of the good advice in Destinations for All: A guide to creating accessible destinations.

Included in the guide are several case studies, some statistics on the number of people left out if the destination if it is not inclusive, engaging with other businesses, and dispelling myths. It even challenges the notion that heritage issues make it impossible by showcasing the Roman Baths project. This guide is informed by research and can be applied as much to a day out in Sydney or Melbourne as a two week holiday in Scotland. 

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Healing Architecture in Hospitals

An aerial view of the hospital layout showing the landscaping.An obvious place to think about healing architecture is hospitals and health centres. The underpinning philosophy is that the physical environment can make a difference to the speed at which patients recover or adapt to acute and chronic conditions. Bindu Guthula discusses this using case studies from Germany, Denmark and Congo. Gardens and nature, colour and lighting, sounds and aromas are discussed by as well as the built environment. The article includes a checklist from the Center for Health Design for the built environment. This comprehensive article is in the Design for All Institute of India Newsletter (page 155). This international newsletter is a large document and all text is in bold type.  

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Universal Design: 5 ways to improve our cities

Auckland city skylineRichard Voss writes in Linked In about the necessity to take a universal design approach to urban design and infrastructure, especially as more people will be living longer and potentially living longer with some type of disability or health issue. He poses five ways to improve accessibility in the built environment which are explained in the article:

  1. Incentivise future proofing in accessibility 
  2. Realise that we all need inclusive design
  3. Combine common sense with building codes
  4. Create a new innovation industry around accessibility
  5. Set achievable target for each development sector

Voss concludes, “In my view the industry is well placed to tackle the Universal Design challenges ahead if we base our designs on the projected demographic. Often Universal Design principles can be included at no extra cost, if implemented early in the design process. If we act collectively as practitioners, researchers and legislators, then we will have diverse and integrated patterns of living in our cities.”

Editor’s Comment: Nice sentiments, which have been discussed time and again by UD converts, but we still see little change when in comes to thinking and designing for our future selves. Also note the interchangeable use of universal design, inclusive design and accessibility. 

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