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.
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 the 2021 better apartment standards 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
New South Wales
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.
TheHousing 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.
The West Australian Guide to Liveable Homes is no longer available. However, it was basically promoting the same design features as the Livable Housing Design Guidelines that were agreed by COAG and the housing and construction industry in 2010.
Note: In October 2022, the National Construction Code will make Silver level mandatory in all new dwellings. However, as at August 2022 NSW has not agreed to adopt the nationally agreed standard. The government claims it is doing sufficient housing for ‘those who need it’. However, Victoria, ACT and Queensland are keen to implement the new standard.
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. “Ageing in Place” is a timely book.
“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.”
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.
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 continuous improvement. But we don’t live in a perfect world and some people just want to know they got it right. That means they want a standard.
NATSPECis an non-profit organisation with the aim of improved construction and productivity in the built environment. The information is free but you might need to login to get access.
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 was written prior to the adoption of the Livable Housing Design Standard which is now mandated in the NCC and is required in Class 1a and Class 2 buildings.
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.
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 online resource has been reformatted from the 2017 version. There are many sections and navigating the pages takes some thought. The “Gateway to Information on Integrated ‘Whole Building’ DesignTechniques and Technologies” is a good place to start. The top dropdown menu item Design Recommendations guides you to the sections.
The new format makes information about accessibility more difficult to find. The search function helps here. However, the links from the older post provide a direct link to the key sections on this topic.
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 housesand apartments. But we need to create all environments for dementia.
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, Publicbuildings, Gardens, Hospitals, and Careenvironments.
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.
Dementia-friendly neighborhoods is a growing area of transdisciplinary research. But there are challenges and gaps that limit the depth of knowledge which need further research. An article from the University of Michigan outlines the issues for the built and social environments.
Neighbourhoods are multi-sensory – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Technological advances support things like wayfinding and memory in navigating environments.
The authors discuss the need for participatory methods to identify areas of need and to prioritise neighbourhood issue.
The My Home My Choices tool from New Zealand has some good advice about ageing in the right place.
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 tool is easily adapted from the New Zealand model and you can also read the research behind it.
Ageing better at home
Because the majority of our homes are designed as if we are never going to grow old, most of us will need to modify our home as we age. That’s if you want to stay put, which is what most older people say is their preference.
A report from Centre for Ageing Better in the UK gives an excellent overview of how home modification improves quality of life, mental health and overall independence. All good reasons for universally designing our homes from the start for the whole of our lives so modifications aren’t needed or are at least easier to do. Dwellings might be a “product” to property developers but for the rest of us a “home” is the pivot point for living our lives.
A great quote from a study participant to reflect upon, “You don’t get taught, at any point in your life, how to become an older person. It just sort of happens, you know…”. So waiting for consumers to ask for universal design isn’t going to work.
If you want to know what people think about accessible housing, the findings from a 2018 surveygives a good idea. There are four narratives that frame the report: the housing industry view; the government view; prospective buyers’ view; and the perspective of people who need mainstream accessible housing.
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 promotional video accessibility is only mentioned once at the end, but the key features are pointed out throughout the video. It’s a slow 11 minutes so recommend viewing at an increased speed setting. Although Silver level is promoted, the size and design of the dwelling makes it closer to Gold level.
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.
Wheelchair users are only one part of the story of universal design in housing. The emphasis on wheelchair users perpetuates 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. However, after ten years of voluntary guidelines, industry has not participated. The industry, particularly mass market builders, rely 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.
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.
Lifemark and BRANZ, the building research organisation in New Zealand, have produced a guideline titled Universal Design for Houses. The drawings and design ideas are based on accessible home design for wheelchair users. This is useful for understanding circulation space that’s good for wheelchair users and also good for everyone. However, not everything good for wheelchair users is good for everyone – so not exactly universal design.
The guide is concise and has lots of graphs to illustrate design ideas. Topics include what’s legally required, getting in and out of the home, wet areas, kitchens, hardware and lifts in dwellings.
Editor’s comment: Translating the term universal design into designs for wheelchair users is a common error. But if you need to design for a generic wheelchair user, this is a good guide.
Be safe at home
Safety, slips, trips and falls are the topic of a Lifemark article, Better Design, Safer Homes,. It points out how many people fall and injure themselves at home. They also cut and burn themselves badly enough to need hospital treatment. How could such injuries be avoided so that people are sate at home? The article on has tips for stairs, bathrooms, kitchens, and entrances.
The article concludes, “A safer home benefits all occupants (and visitors), not just older people. Children, in particular will benefit from a design that recognises and addresses risk areas and by doing so creates a more liveable space for everyone”. Lifemarkis based in New Zealand.
The Dementia Enabling Environments website has a page on home designideas. Some of them are simple and cost nothing, but might not be obvious to the casual observer. The Adapt a House page has a floor plan of five rooms: living room, kitchen/dining, bedroom, bathroom and laundry. It’s interactive, so clicking on a room brings up more detail. For example, in the kitchen they suggest see-through doors on wall cabinets. If replacing an appliance, match it closely to the existing one. In the bedroom colour contrasts are important for finding the bed and other furniture. Block-out blinds on the windows help differentiate between day and night, especially in the summertime. There is lots more information and resources on the website.
The Dementia Enabling Environments web tool was developed by Alzheimer’s WA.
There’s also help for bathroom fittings from HEWI. Dr. Birgit Dietz explains the background thoughts in the development of the age and dementia-sensitive washbasin, which she designed together with HEWI. She claims that qualitative studies show that the colour red is most easily perceived by people with dementia. Red is also the most easily registered colour for people with age-related vision impairment or inoperable eye diseases, for example, macular degeneration. The dementia washbasin is therefore also suitable for people with low vision. Go to the Hewi webpage for more designs.