Universal Design, Affordability and Cost in Housing

Head and shoulders pic of Kay Saville-Smith. Universal design and affordability in housing.
Kay Saville-Smith

At a roundtable meeting following the 2014 Universal Design Conference in Sydney, Kay Saville-Smith  shared her experience on universal design and affordability.  She was happy to share her five key points about universal design in housing: 

“The usual argument is that universal design is consistently unaffordable (by which they mean more costly) than poor design because of the difficulties of retrofitting the existing environment and lack of economies of scale. Actually, the reasons why universal design is seen as costly can add cost. Five points are interesting: 

    1. Most products are not designed but driven off existing tools, processes and organisational  structures. To change these does require some investment (hump costs) but these are one off and should not be seen as an ongoing cost. Indeed, those changes can bring reduced costs in the long term through increased productivity etc.
    2. The costs of poor design are externalised onto households, other sectors or hidden unmet need.
    3. Comes out of an advocacy approach that pitches the needs of one group against another and treats universal design as special design etc.
    4. Win-win solutions need to be built with the industry participants that are hungry for share not dominant players who have incentives to retain the status quo.
    5. Universal design is different from design which is fashion based. The trick is to make universal design fashionable so no one would be seen dead without it.”

Her keynote presentation provides more information about why it is so hard to get traction with universal design in housing. The picture is of Kay Saville-Smith.

Is UD measurable in the planning context?

A building interior with lines on the floor. Is UD measureable?
Wayfinding was an issue.

Lindsay Perry posed this question at the ACAA/UD conference held in Melbourne October 2015.  In this presentation she provides examples that relate to the classic seven principles of universal design. The second part of her presentation contains a quick survey of friends, family and work colleagues. She asked them, “When you go out for the day, what is the main thing you rely on to be able to travel through and navigate the built environment? What irritates you?”

The responses all related to wayfinding – knowing where you are and having signs that make sense. Download the PDF of the presentation here

Universal Design – Sport and Recreation Facilities

Evan WilkinsonEvan Wilkinson outlines the process that Sport and Recreation Victoria went through to bring about a better understanding of the principles of universal design.

One of his key arguments is that if universal design principles are considered at the outset, the cost implications are low. However, if left until later in the design and construction process, the cost of ‘adding on’ access features is far more costly. Download the PDF of the PowerPoint Slideshow (5.5 MB) for more on UD and sport and recreation facilities.

Sport and Recreation Victoria have also launched their Design for Everyone Guide. The link takes you to the website that also has a very useful video on universal design shown below.

Universal Access is not Universal Design

UD Conference headerMark Relf traced the history of disability access and universal design in Australia. His presentation, Universal Access is not Universal Design, provided an excellent context to the position of universal design today. The transcript of his presentation is included in the Panel session on Day 2 of the conference:   Panel Session Day 2 PDF.

The House that Chris Built – his story

Chris Nicholls house Chris Nicholls discusses the design and construction of his family home from the perspective of a wheelchair user.  He explains why some design features, which are often referred to as disability features, are not necessarily needed by every wheelchair user or person with disability. He also explains which features were important and why. His story shows why we need to mandate basic access features so that people like Chris don’t have to fight the builder all the way. Too many times the builder thought “near enough was good enough”.

The slideshow presentation has many instructive photographs.  You can also download the transcript of his presentation: 

Chris Nicholls Transcript Word    Chris Nicholls Transcript PDF  

Universal Design in Sport and Recreation

UD-logo-200x200Sofi De Lesantis is Manager of Metropolitan Community Facilities at Sport and Recreation Victoria.  Her team works in partnership with local government to plan and invest in new and improved sport and recreation facilities that aim to meet the needs of all users across metropolitan Melbourne.  

Sofi discusses how universal design thinking and principles can be applied in the sport and recreation sector, such as procurement and planning processes to influence design outcomes and how its use can lead to more active and engaged communities.

Sofi De Lesantis presentation slideshow PDF  2MB

Abstract: As Australians, sport and recreation forms an invaluable part of our cultural fabric. At the elite level it is a source of pride and unity, and at the grassroots level it is in many cases the heart of entire communities. Continue Reading Universal Design in Sport and Recreation

Universal Design and Transport

UD-logo-200x200Liz Reedy discusses how many developed countries have incorporated requirements of universal design in their laws and regulations. This presentation will compare and contrast progress made in Australia with other developed countries and discuss how Australia can improve its transport systems to be more inclusive. The recent upgrades to several railway stations in Sydney were used to engage audience participation.

Liz Reedy presentation slideshow  PDF  2 MB

Universal Neighbourhood Design:

UD-logo-200x200Making place for multi-generations of all abilities

Assoc Prof Lisa Stafford discussed the need for building an agenda for universal neighbourhood design to cater for multi-generational use, using three studies: children, older people, document analysis of neighbourhoods. 

You can see a similar paper, Planning Neighbourhoods for All Ages and Abilities: A Multigenerational Perspective. 

Conference Abstract  

Neighbourhoods play an integral role in facilitating both individual and community wellbeing. They have been associated with engendering cohesive and healthy communities (Thompson & Magnin, 2012; Mees, 2012), sustainable mobility (William, 2005; Schenier & Kasper, 2003), and physical activity (Hume, Salmon, Ball, 2005). However, studies have also suggested that poorly planned neighbourhoods are unfriendly towards children (Horelli, 2007; UNICEF, 2012), people with disabilities (Stafford, 2013, Gleeson, 2001, Imrie, 1996) and older people (Baldwin et al, 2012; Judd, 2012, Judd et al, 2010; Vine et al. 2012). Despite this knowledge and known problems, the neighbourhood scale continues to receive inadequate consideration from a universal design perspective.

In Australia, the 2011 enactment of the Design for Access to Premises Standards (2010), underpinned by Disability Discrimination Act (1992) and supported by Design for Access and Mobility Australian Standard suite (AS1428), resulted in the requirement of universal access to public buildings. Whilst, private homes (class 1A structures) were not included in this standard, along with public spaces, there is, however, intense advocacy and well-defined guidelines and programs promoting universally designed housing. However, there is little guidance for planners, developers and designers about how to make neighbourhoods accessible for multiple ages and abilities.

This presentation argues for the need to build an agenda for universal neighbourhood design, and an understanding of the foundations that are required to create neighbourhood environments that are friendly and inclusive of the diversity of ages and abilities. The presentation supports this through the discussion of findings from three studies: 1.a participatory study of seniors in south-east Queensland (SEQ) (Baldwin et al., 2012), 2. a person-environment study of children with physical disabilities and their families’ participation in urban spaces in SEQ (Stafford, 2013), and 3. document analysis of neighbourhoods, UD and planning relating to multi-generations and abilities (Stafford, Baldwin and Beazley, 2014).

The paper was co-authored by Dr Claudia Baldwin and Dr Harriot Beazley from University of Sunshine Coast.

Universal design: Interprofessional perspectives

UD-logo-200x200Helen Larkin presents key findings from a qualitative study on the understanding of universal design and how the design for Diversity Initiative builds capacity for inter-professional education and research related to universal design practice.

Helen Larkin presentation slideshow: Universal design and inter-professional perspectives. PDF  1MB

Slips Trips and Falls: Access, Safety and Poetry in Urban Places

UD-logo-200x200John Clarke is currently Director of Parish Clarke Architects, and was formerly Principal Architect with GHD Architecture and Principal of Urban Design and City Projects with Brisbane City Council. Contact John Clarke if you are interested in this presentation on slips, trips and access.


Notwithstanding the recent attention to sustainability in Urban Design, there remains a vast difference between the aspirations of public authorities and designers and the built outcomes in our urban places. As a culture, and as designers and place managers, and as custodians of the public realm, we need to be more vigilant, better prepared, educated, and to better understand what is required of built environments. Issues of universal design and particularly accessibility and public safety continue to be misunderstood, and place management poorly conceived or implemented.

Despite a mature design industry and the myriad of policies, regulations, and design guidelines; our urban places and connections fall far short of the goals we deserve. This is partly due to governance and budgetary allocations, but a quick survey of any of our urban places shows that as a culture we struggle with implementing design for safety and accessibility, let alone infusing our places of with human dignity and poetic experience.

This presentation examines the experience of design through visual examples and appraises some of the reasons for their failures and likely consequences in terms of safety and accessibility. Further evaluation reveals potential opportunities that might have been derived if technical, regulatory and OHS design techniques were methodically applied, and if the principles of universal design had been considered at the design and implementation stage. This may expose some the reasons why our endeavours are less than successful. Finally this presentation muses on the path ahead for designers and public authorities and what challenges they need to confront in the nature of future design management, regulation and policies to help bring about universal design.

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