Neighbourhood design and older home owners

Front slide of slide show, Neighbourhood Design, Judd et alEver wondered what people get up to in their retirement years? This slideshow, Neighbourhood Design and the Activities of Older Home Owners gives a good idea – visiting family and friends and medical appointments top the list.

The presentation discusses the barriers and facilitators of neighbourhood activity older people encounter in their day to day life. Footpaths, or lack thereof, featured as a key issue. It also covers the other main components of being able to get out and about – public transport, street furniture, wayfinding, public toilets, handrails on stairs, safety and security.

The presentation has lots of explanatory graphs and is based on research by Bruce Judd, Diana Olsberg, Joanne Quinn and Oya Demirbilek from UNSW.  

How smart are smart cities?

The use of the term “smart city” can mean different things to different people. Perhaps using the perspective of accessibility as a measure of liveability is one way to find out how smart a city is. In the introduction to Urban and Building Accessibility Diagnosis using ‘Accessibility App’ in Smart Cities: A Case Study  the authors say, “One of the most important aspects that influence the liveability of cities is the ability to be an inclusive city. Thus, Smart Cities require an inclusive urban life, and they are characterized by being accessible cities”.  The article describes a method of using ICT to analyse and diagnose the accessibility of buildings and urban environment. In applying the methodology, one feature emerged many times as an issue – heavy doors. The method is explained in detail.

The article is by Raquel Pérez-delHoyo, María Dolores Andújar-Montoya, Higinio Mora
and Virgilio Gilart-Iglesias, and was downloaded from ResearchGate.  

Keeping everyone active in urban space

landscape view of tower buildings in the distance and green parkland in the foregroundNew ideas are evolving on ways to activate public space. Formal and informal spaces are discussed in Activating Public Space: How to Promote Physical Activity in Urban Environments by Malgorzata Kostrzewska. Examples used are from Australia, UK, and Poland. In the latter part of the article the author discusses design ideas for activating space. Controversially, the she says design should be based on tolerance rather than exclusion of unwanted behaviours, “Instead of introducing numerous prohibitive signs (against skateboarding, parkour, ball games, etc.), it is better to seek a compromise concerning terms of use of the space specified by all the stakeholders in the course of workshop meetings and their participation in the design process. The compromise solutions already in existence (e.g. in Warsaw) confirm that if all the parties acknowledge their respective needs, they will understand and respect each other.” The conclusion section lists the most important spatial features to consider in any urban design.    

Urban psychology on the streets

Three young people wearing headsets are looking at their smartphones in an outdoor settingColin Ellard outlines the work of the Urban Realities Laboratory at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Using devices for either tracking eye movements or heart rates, students took their research to the streets. They measured responses to features such as green space, visual complexity and interaction with traffic. The article is titled, A new agenda for urban psychology: out of the laboratory and into the streets.  In his summary, the author argues that with the expansion of urban centres across the globe, being able to live healthily and comfortably, we must also consider our mental health as well as any other physical attributes.

The Laboratory’s mission is “to explore the connection between individual psychology and urban design in order to elaborate the principles that might contribute to psychological resilience and wellbeing in the urban environment”.  

Who says it is liveable?

Urban landscape with shade trees and lots of casual seating with people sitting.Cameron Jewell writes in Fifth Estate that the notion of liveability should be questioned when it comes to Australian cities. This is in spite of our cities regularly ranking highly on this measure. Jewell says there is little evidence cities are achieving their policy targets for walkability, public transport or public open space. He is commenting on a report of five years of research, Creating Liveable Cities in Australia. At the end of the article are the seven key recommendations. Evidence based policies tops the list. Accessibility gets a brief mention in terms of employment and amenities. The questioning should include accessibility and universal design. If one in five of us is living with disability, and double that at least for including inconvenienced family members, we are not making places and spaces liveable for everyone. And we are not meeting our targets under the National Disability Strategy either.   

The future of cars and land use planning

A woman with blonde hair sits reading a magazine resting on the steering wheel of the car she is (not) driving. The road and other cars are visible through the windscreen as the photo was taken from the back seat.Driverless vehicles could bring out the best – or worst – in our cities by transforming land use according to an article in Fifth Estate.  Technology has entered just about every aspect of our lives. Urban design and planning included. Things to think about are: freeing up road space for other uses, turning parking lots into social uses, redesigning building and street interfaces, transforming fuel stations into something else, and converting domestic garage spaces in suburbia. But there could also be an increase in urban sprawl and changing property values and planning controls. This is disruption for planners. The article is based on research by an interdisciplinary group and has many links to further reading. The article includes a video about walkability and was originally published in The Conversation.  

Equity, health and high density living

landscape view of tower buildings in the distance and green parkland in the foreground. It depicts high density living.According to research by Susan Thompson and Gregory Paine, lower income and disadvantaged households feel the negative impacts of high density living more than others. They conclude that “blindly pursuing a uniform denser city agenda will only reinforce and exacerbate health inequalities”.

The concept of universal design captures the healthy built environment agenda along all other aspects of urban planning and design. Steinfeld and Maisel (2012) define universal design as “a process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, health and wellness, and social participation”.

Urban environments should be suitable for all, not just for some.  See the article, which first featured in The Fifth Estate, for more detail. Susan Thompson and Gregory Paine are part of the City Futures Research Centre at University of New South Wales.

Books by Jos Boys

Front cover of book by Jos Boys. Dark green background with human figures in white Jos Boys’ latest book Disability, Space, Architecture: A Reader, is a collection of both academic and personal accounts of how the built environment is experienced by different people. It explores the interconnections between disability, architecture and cities. The writing style is mostly non-academic and includes chapters from a man who is blind and a woman who approaches universal design from a feminist perspective. 

This book follows Doing Disability Differently, which was cover of book showing a young person in a wheelchair looking out over rooftops in the London Eye. Doing disability differently by Jos Boys.published in 2014. The Architectural Review online publication has an interesting, if short, review of the book in which Jos Boys argues that rethinking ability and architecture offers a powerful tool to design differently. It asks the intriguing question: can working from dis/ability actually generate an alternative kind of architectural avant-garde?

You might also be interested in reading another article in The Architectural Review, Redefining modular man for a new era of inclusivity by Catherine Slessor.

Universal Design and Cultural Heritage

A photo of architectural plans. Universal design and cultural heritageDo architects design first and worry about legislation later or is it the reverse? Danish researcher Camilla Rhyl decided to find out in the context of increasing universal design in the built environment. She found that the legislative interpretation takes precedence over architectural interpretation and is perceived as limiting creativity and architectural quality. So, can universal design and cultural heritage work together?

Architects regularly work with sensory, social and cognitive aspects of design, but there is no legislative reference to this part of their work. The following is from the second half of Camilla Rhyl’s abstract from a book chapter, So much more than building regulations: Universal design and the case of practice.

“The article shows how their methods, values and architectural thinking is built on a foundation of multisensory inclusion and quality, only they do not perceive this understanding as being UD in the general and legislative manner. There seems to be an apparent gap between their values, methods and architectural thinking and the legislative framework in which UD is presented and perceived currently in Norway and Denmark.

Through an example of a cultural heritage (CH) project by the Danish architect Merete Lind Mikkelsen, the article demonstrates how it is possible to interpret UD in CH practice without compromising architectural quality or UD, but rather expand and develop the architectural understanding of the possibilities of UD.”

The full document may be access through the Aalborg University site. If you subscribe to ResearchGate or you may be able to access this chapter without needing the whole book.

Published in: Accessibility As a Key Enabling Knowledge for Enhancement of Cultural Heritage, 2016, p. 115-130. 

Architecture competitions for UD: codes or innovation?

picture of a modern building Norway Opera House. Architecture competitions.How juries assess universal design in architectural school competitions is critical to the level of innovation that can be expected. Norwegian Leif D Houck gives an excellent analysis of the way competitions are run today and improvements for the future.

The following excerpt from the introductory section provides a good overview and direction of the discussion in the article. We would do well to take up the recommendations here in Australia.

“The very reason to organize an architectural competition is to achieve maximum quality in a project. The idea is not to have a competition to see if anyone manages to comply the regulations, building codes and the competition brief. No, the idea is to achieve qualities beyond the regulations.

An architectural competition will most likely result in different designs and solutions – with different qualities. Additionally, a project’s development from developing the building program until the building stage contains stages in which the project is in process and will (hopefully) be improved.”

Lid’s approach to look at universal design at different levels from strategic to instrumental, is useful in the discussion of what level universal design should be solved in architectural competitions. Which challenges should be solved in the competition stage, and which challenges can be solved in the development of the winner project.

You can download the full article, How Juries Assess UD in Norwegian Architectural School CompetitionsThe article was published in Universal Design 2016: Learning from the Past, Designing for the Future H. Petrie et al. (Eds.) © 2016  

The picture is of the Oslo Opera House


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