Inclusive building design: a guide

Talking about inclusive built environments is easy, but how do you do it well? With different stakeholders involved in the design and delivery of a project, how do you get them to join up their thinking to approach projects with the same inclusive mindset? An inclusive building design guide focused on the processes is the way to do it.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) created an Inclusion Charter in 2020. One of their commitments was to embed inclusive design in all projects. But architects cannot work in isolation – all stakeholders need to take on an inclusive mindset. As an extension to their Charter, they created the Inclusive Design Overlay to the RIBA Plan of Work. It seeks to bring all stakeholders on board for every part of the project.

“The role our built environment has on each and every person’s life cannot be overestimated. This Inclusive Design Overlay provides a consensus across built environment professions for how we accelerate inclusion and value diversity.” Robbie Turner, Director of Inclusion and Diversity, RIBA.

Front cover of the RIBA Inclusive Design Overlay showing a montage of nine different groups of people.

Twenty-five different built environment professions provided insights and best practice content for the overlay. The inclusive design tasks apply to the client, project management team, design team, construction team and asset management team.

There are three core parts: the Client Team, the Design Team and the Construction Team. In addition, they recommend having an inclusive design consultant, or champion, with specialist inclusive design expertise. As Australian access consultants know, the earlier they are consulted the better. So it is good to see RIBA encouraging involvement from the outset of the project. The overlay also encourages the project team to look beyond building regulations.

Good design must be fundamentally inclusive just as it should be sustainable and resilient. Inclusive design should be elevated to the same level as sustainability.

A man in a white hard hat and hi-vis vest is on a large monitor in an office. Four people are watching him. RIBA inclusive design overlay.

The overlay details the roles of each team and stages of work. It begins with setting the project brief and budget through concept design, construction and handover to asset managers. There are separate sections for each of the key teams and what they should do and understand at each stage.


The document includes a section on inclusive design enablers. These are actions that support the development of an inclusive design strategy, and implementation of inclusive design across the delivery of a project. Each sub-section has clear information on the diversity of the population and different levels of capability, and how to approach them in design and construction processes.

Access the document by visiting the landing page on the RIBA website, which will give you an overview as well.

Editor’s note: In the UK they use the term “inclusive design” where other countries use “universal design”. The goals and actions are the same.

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