Apartment Design Guides: Victoria, NSW & SA

front cover of the guidelines showing a view through an apartment room through the window to the outdoorsHere 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 2017 apartment guide from Victoria. However, it is a good reference with technical advice. Victoria requires 50% of apartments to 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

The document can be accessed through the landing page of the government website or you can download the document directly.  

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. 

 

Housing Design Guide from South Australia

Photo used for front cover of guide. It shows an outdoor area similar to a veranda.Want to know what older people want in home design? The Housing for Life: Designed for Living guide was developed for the South Australian Government with an emphasis on population ageing and supporting active ageing policies. The report documents the features and factors that older people themselves identified as important 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. The report is 16 pages in PDF. The key principles identified through the co-design process are: 

Choice: Older people want choices about how they live
Quality: It is better to invest in quality fixtures and fittings now for better efficiency 
Wellbeing: Wellbeing is a direct result of connectedness with community and home.
Design: The concept of passive and flexible design 
Cost: They prefer smart investment and the ability to personalise their homes
Smart: Smart technology and renewable energy stand the test of time
Access: Proximity to transport, services and the community is fundamental 

> Technology has a critical role to play in meeting unmet needs for independent living, connected living and well-designed housing.
> Older people are a diverse group and no single design will meet all needs. 
> Co-design between the housing sector and end-users is essential for accurate and relevant design.
> Quality design and product are highly valued and of equal importance to design features that address ageing-related challenges.
> Features that are valued in age friendly housing and neighbourhood design are energy efficiency, natural lighting, connection between indoor and outdoor spaces, walkability, proximity to transport and services, connection to community balanced with privacy and security, and capacity for personalisation. 

Front cover of the reportA related report from the US has similar recommendations. Researchers in South Dakota found lack of demand was overstated and that the role of terminology plays an important part in consumer perception. In their study, participants assessed the appropriateness of different situations using vignettes. Participants were also asked about the relevance of UD in everyday life, and whether UD sounded environmentally friendly, attractive, or expensive. 

The report has an executive summary and recommendations that follow other US studies in recommending visitability features (similar to Silver level of Livable Housing Guidelines). This is because the original concept of UD provides for an iterative process of continuous improvement and adaptation. “Therefore, any attempt for widespread implementation will likely be cumbersome and counterproductive”. 

The title of the report is, Housing Across the Lifespan:Consumer knowledge and preferences.  By Leacy E Brown, Jane Strommen and Susan Ray-Deggs.

Editor’s note: From a purist UD position I agree that regulation or a standard can be counterproductive. From a pragmatic position it needs regulation in housing because it is the only way to get cohesion of results across this fragmented industry.

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. 

 

Why wouldn’t you?

Graphic of a purple house shape with green outline for a window and a door.The catch cry “Why wouldn’t you? is the three word tag used in promotional material to promote universal design in housing. A builder, and a building designer are calling their collaboration Project Silver. They are promoting Livable Housing Australia’s Silver Level for improved liveability. The mystery is if it would cost so little in the scheme of things, why aren’t the building designer and builder just doing it automatically? The catch cry should be to the builder – why wouldn’t you just do it? Then no-one would have to label the home as some kind of special design.

The six minute video (below) puts the case very well. It includes contributions from different people, including the mayor of the Sunshine Coast. It’s worth a watch. Another builder in Townsville is telling the same story

Editor’s comment: The builder claims Silver Level costs an additional $3000 to potentially save $60,000. Possibly it is another way to sell an “extra” and therefore the customer pays over and above the actual cost of the features.

Australian Network on Universal Housing Design supports the Gold Level of the guidelines. It considers this level makes homes fit for purpose for the majority of the population across their lifetime. 

 

Home Builder Goes for Silver

A view from the kitchen to the alfresco showing an adjustable bench top acting as a table.A home builder in Queensland, is building Livable Housing Silver level homes and he wants everyone else to follow his lead. He has persuaded Townsville City Council and industry stakeholders to come together to make this possible. In a 9 minute video (below) various people explain the importance of Silver level to them. The best parts of the video are in the second half where Martin Locke shows how Silver level homes are modern and “normal”. One key point is that it shows there are no design or technical impediments for having Silver (or Gold) level in all new housing.

The video begins with several wheelchair users explaining their situation. But wheelchair users are only one part of the story of universal design in housing. The emphasis on wheelchair users is likely to perpetuate the idea that this is “disability housing” and this puts it in the “specialised housing” bracket. The Livable Housing Design Guidelines are about everyone, not just wheelchair users.

Locke believes Silver level can be rolled out without additional regulation. In theory this might be true. However, the evidence is not with him. The industry, particularly the mass market section, relies on regulation to hold the system together so that all the designers, engineers, and trades know what they are doing and can work in tandem.

The Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) supports Gold level of the Guidelines because these thoughtful features are good for everyone, and especially for older people and young children. Locke’s estimations of extra cost need further examination. For example, he doesn’t say why a level shower recess and level access into the home should cost more than current designs. If included as regular practice the cost, if any, would be negligible.

It’s great to see at least one community trying to make a difference in this space. Martin Locke and the Townsville City Mayor are to be congratulated for their efforts in bringing people together to show the way for the house-building industry.