Adopting universal design: the view of architects

A floor plan drawing with a black pen. Adopting universal design by architects is a problem.We rely on designers to make the things we use, and to make them easy and convenient to use. But are users the main consideration or is it a case of impressing fellow designers? When it comes to adopting universal design it seems to be a big problem according to the view of architects. Perhaps performance-based codes would help. Two papers discuss the issues for architects. 

The research paper from Europe takes the case of Flanders to examine the barriers and drivers in architectural practice. While legislation and regulations aim to push for more inclusive designs, reluctance is still apparent. Data were collected from Flemish architects using a survey and seminars. Sceptical attitudes was a common barrier with both architects and their clients.

One of the conclusions is that access regulations create tunnel vision regarding universal design. The language of accessibility dominated participant responses and not inclusion. This research project has produced a lot of useful content in terms of real and perceived barriers to implementing UD.

The title of the paper is, Barriers To And Drivers Of Adopting UD In Current Architectural Practice: The Case Of Flanders“. Published in the Journal or Architectural and Planning Research in 2019. 

In contrast to other studies, this one specifically focuses on factors that affect the decision to implement universal design at the beginning of the design process. “The main reason for this focus is that the initial motivation or commitment to adopt UD as a design strategy at the very start of the process appears to be important in order to accomplish the goal of inclusion (Bringolf, 2011; Ringaert, 2001).”

Performance codes and universal design

architectural plans on a desk. Universal design needs performance codes.
Performance codes could help

All 700 Danish architectural firms were invited to share their experience of the accessibility requirements in the Danish Building Regulations. Participants thought a performance-based model would be better suited to support accessibility criteria. However, performance codes would be insufficient to promote UD in architecture. 

The authors of Do Performance-Based Codes Support Universal Design in Architecture, claim that this is partly because professionals’ understanding was client orientated rather than citizen orientated. In addition, architects’ understanding of inclusiveness was relatively limited. Consequently, this model would not in itself promote inclusive architecture.

From the Abstract

The research project was, How Danish architectural firms experience the accessibility requirements of the Danish Building Regulations? It examines their opinions on how future regulative models can support innovative and inclusive design – Universal Design. The current prescriptive requirements are criticized for being too homogenous and possibilities for differentiation and zoning are required. The common understanding of accessibility and universal design is directly related to buildings like hospitals and care centres.