Good Design for Social Housing

Front cover of the social housing brochure. A woman sits on the edge of a raised garden bed.Good design for social housing creates neighbourhoods where people feel they belong. The NSW Government has produced a four page brochure outlining their goals for social housing. Wellbeing, Belonging, Value and Collaboration are keywords. There is no explicit mention of universal design principles in this document, but there is in the one that links with it. This is the one on dwelling requirements for good design in social housing.

The more detailed document of dwelling requirements leads with legislation and codes. It follows with Universal Design Principles. They require all new stock to apply a minimum level of Silver as outlined in the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. Each development may require a percentage of Gold level as well.

The document goes on to provide unit and room dimensions. If the NSW Government can design Silver and even Gold into these relatively small areas then everyone else can too. There’s more detail in this 5 page document that covers siting, gardens, utilities and more. 

The documents are titled, Good Design for Social Housing, and Dwelling Requirements

The NSW Government Architect has also introduced a universal design approach into its overarching document, Better Placed. While the term “universal design” is not used explicitly, it is inherent in the way the document is written. 

 

Better Apartment Design Standards

Front cover of standard with internal view of an apartment.The Victorian Government has updated the Better Apartment Design Standards. The aim is to make surrounding neighbourhoods better as well as the dwellings. There is also a section on accessibility at the end. The policy’s main aims are:

      1. More green space
      2. Designing for families
      3. More durable and better quality materials
      4. Attractive and safe street frontages

A community fact sheet gives a good overview and there is a separate one for industry and councilsThere is a short video on their website explaining the changes.

The final draft report has more detail, and as always with these guideline documents, accessibility is tacked on at the end. However, it has some useful guidance and encourages 50% of dwellings to have the following:

• A clear opening width of at least 850mm at the entrance to the dwelling and main bedroom.
• A clear path with a minimum width of 1.2 metres that connects the dwelling entrance to the main bedroom, an adaptable bathroom and the living area.
• A main bedroom with access to an adaptable bathroom.
• At least one adaptable bathroom.

Some of the floor plans look to be based on the old Adaptable Housing Standard (AS4299) rather than the more flexible Livable Housing Design standard. 

Case studies of universally designed homes

Max and Tricia stand at their doorway which reflects their love of Japanese design.Lifemark in New Zealand has several good case studies of universally designed homes. Some are modest homes and some are more upmarket.

The latest edition of their newsletter features a spacious home with great views. The owners, Max and Tricia have an interesting story to tell. Max is a mechanical engineer who taught environmental and spatial home design to architecture students. He knew about accessibility but not heard of universal design. Turns out that one of Max’s students in 1995 became the designer of their new home. The story of Max and Tricia has some nice detail and pictures in the article. 

Not everyone has money to spend on a “grand design”, but it doesn’t have to be grand to be universally designed and suitable for everyone.  Lifemark has a gallery of homes designed with universal design principles on their website. There’s also some examples of retrofits. 

delete page https://universaldesignaustralia.net.au/case-study-of-a-ud-home/

Apartment Design Guides: Victoria, NSW & SA

Front cover of standard with internal view of an apartment.Here are three apartment design guides: Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. 

Reference to accessibility is the last item in the list of design considerations in this 2021 apartment guide from Victoria. However, it is a good reference with technical advice. Victoria says 50% of apartments should have as a minimum:

    • A clear door opening of at least 850mm at the entrance and main bedroom
    • A clear path of 1200mm between entrance and main bedroom, bathroom and living area
    • A main bedroom with access to an accessible bathroom
    • At least one accessible or adaptable bathroom

front cover of the apartment design guide.The NSW Department of Planning Apartment Design Guide includes a small section on universal design (P 118). In the design guidance section, it refers to the Livable Housing Design Guidelines (Silver Level, equivalent to visitability).  However, it suggests a proportional number (20%), which means universal design is not universally applied. Consequently, this becomes specialised housing rather than mainstream housing. The old Adaptable Housing Standard (AS4299) is also referenced. The new apartment guide replaces the NSW Residential Flat Design Code. The guide was published in 2015.

Photo used for front cover of guide. It shows an outdoor area similar to a veranda.The Housing for Life: Designed for Living guide was developed for the South Australian Government. Population ageing and ageing well polices underpin the report and guide. The features and factors that older people identified as important are documented as well as industry perspectives. It also outlines the economic arguments for considering the housing needs of older people. Examples of floor plans are included in the 2019 report which is 16 pages in PDF.

Healthy Home Guide

View of the website landing page.Joining the dots between all aspects of physical and social sustainability is important for a healthy life and a healthy planet. Central to this is the design of our homes. The Healthy Housing Design Guide from New Zealand says they need to be durable, efficient in size and cost, and friendly to the occupants and the environment.

The three bar menu icon on the landing page of this online resource takes you to the content of the Guide. Universal Design leads in the table of contents. This is pleasing as most other guides leave it to a last thought at the end. The design detail features wheelchair users for circulation spaces, which, of course are good for everyone. Among the interesting images is a lower storage draw doubling as a step for child to reach the kitchen bench. The case studies focus on energy efficiency and sustainability.

This is a comprehensive document starting with universal design, site and location, through to air quality and acoustics and ending with certifications. The Guide characterises a healthy home by the acronym HEROES:

      • Healthy: Promoting optimal health and wellbeing through its design, resilience, and efficiency.
      • Efficient: Size and space, affordable and energy positive for the life of the building.
      • Resilient: Resilient enough to withstand earthquakes and climatic conditions. Durable to stand the test of time.
      • On purpose:  Designed specifically with Heroes in mind and fit for purpose.
      • Environmental: Socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable to build and run. Considerate of Climate Change.
      • Sustainable: Meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The style of the website is pleasing but the landing page gives little idea to navigation. It says “Welcome” and then asks visitors to stay super involved. There is a bar with an arrow to go to the Foreword. The navigation is via the three bar menu icon at the top left of the page. 

Editor’s note: I first thought that I had to sign up to get access because the first thing my cursor met was “Stay Super Involved”. It was not obvious to me that the three bar menu icon was the entry point. I later found, when writing this post, that there is a tab on the right hand side of the webpage that takes you page by page. It would be interesting to know if this document is accessible for screen readers.

The video from the launch of the guide takes you through the content. Universal Design gets a mention at the 25 minute mark. It is introduced by Henry McTavish.

Ageing in Place: A timely book

Front cover of the book.Across the globe, older people want to stay put as they age. They do not aspire to residential care and are also moving away from the retirement village model. But are our planners, designers and builders listening? COVID-19 pandemic is also challenging established policy about where older people want to live.

Bruce Judd, a long time Australian researcher in this area, is the editor of a new book, Ageing in Place: Design, Planning and Policy Response in the Western Asia-Pacific. The book looks at ageing in place in built environments in Japan, China, Taiwan, Australia and NZ. 

From the book review:

“Encouraging older people to age in place in their own homes is a common response internationally to the economic and social demands of population ageing. It is recognized that the nature of the built environment at various scales is critical to optimizing the social participation and wellbeing of older people and hence in facilitating ageing in place. This insightful book showcases a range of design, planning and policy responses to ageing populations from across the rapidly changing and dynamic Western Asia-Pacific region.

Ageing in Place considers diverse cultural, political and environmental contexts and responses to show that regional governments, industries and communities can gain, as well as offer, important insights from their international counterparts. With significant changes in caring, family dynamics and the supporting roles of governments in both Eastern and Western societies, the chapters demonstrate a clear and increasingly convergent preference for and promotion of ageing in place and the need for collaborative efforts to facilitate this through policy and practice.

The unique geographical focus and multi-disciplinary perspective of this book will greatly benefit academic researchers and students from a variety of backgrounds including architecture, urban planning, sociology and human geography. It also provides a unique entry point for practitioners seeking to understand the principles of design and practice for ageing in place in homes, neighbourhoods and care facilities.”

A related article on smart home technology for older people links with the concepts in the book. 

The book is edited by Bruce Judd, Emeritus Professor, City Futures Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia, Kenichi Tanoue, Professor, Department of Environmental Design, Faculty of Design, Kyushu University, Japan and Edgar Liu, Senior Research Fellow, City Futures Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia.

Specifications for universal design

new home construction site with timber on the ground.Universal design is a thinking process that aims for the most inclusive design solutions possible – designing universally. It is a process that improves through iteration. This means that you can’t specify a standard, which is for one point in time, because it stops the process of continuing improvement. But we don’t live in a perfect world and some people just want to know they got it right. Ergo a standard please. 

NATSPEC is an non-profit organisation with the aim of improved construction and productivity in the built environment. Their website has a long list of technical notes, which cover many construction elements. New to the list are:

These technical notes are just two pages long. They are good for quick reference and for anyone new to universal design concepts. The Accessible Housing guidance refers to the Adaptable Housing Standard (AS4299), Livable Housing Design Guidelines, and the Access to Premises Standard. it also references the National Construction Code and related standards.

Designing with inclusion in mind will sometimes mean that more than one solution is required. So a “one-size-fits-all” approach can be counterproductive. It also means doing the best you can with what you have at the time with a view to improving with the next iteration. 

 

Whole Building Design Guide

wheel diagram showing all the elements of building design.Joining the dots between all aspects of the built environment is not easy task. So the Whole Building Design Guide is a welcome resource. It is a collaboration among stakeholders and government agencies in the US. It could be titled, Building Design as a Whole. 

This web-based resource has everything you need to know. The section on design considerations has subsections that include accessibility, aesthetics, historic preservation, and sustainability. The Accessibility tab reveals more sections including Beyond Accessibility to Universal Design. This section has a useful explanation for building on the seven principles of universal design with the eight goals of universal design.

There are also sections on continuing education, case studies, and project management. This is one of the most comprehensive resources around for anyone involved in the built environment. The resource has content specific to the US in terms of codes and regulations, but the concepts apply elsewhere. The good thing is the resource appears to be updated. I first posted on this guide in 2017. I can see there is new content. 

 

Enabling environments for dementia

A older man and woman are smiling at each other. The man is handing the woman a yellow tulip. Staying home has taken on a new meaning, and for some, a priority, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But what if the design of the home environment isn’t helping, especially if you have dementia? Alzheimer’s WA has a great website with really practical information on houses and apartments

Of course, staying home also means staying in the community. So the neighbourhood and facilities need to be dementia-friendly too. The website also has this covered. There are sections on, Public buildings, GardensHospitals, and Care environments.

Each section takes you to a floor plan with interactive buttons. Each button takes you to an illustration of a room or space, again with buttons for more information. For example, a click on a floor plan kitchen takes you to an illustration of a kitchen. Within this illustration are buttons checking off each of the design principles, such as lighting and cooking. There are PDF lists for download as well.

This website is a comprehensive virtual information centre for living with dementia. It’s useful for family members and designers alike. Some elements might be something as simple as rearranging things so they can be seen. Others might need more design know-how. A great resource. 

There’s also a Dementia Friendly Home app and a virtual experience by Dementia Australia. 

Image courtesy Alzheimer’s WA.

 

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.