Selwyn Goldsmith and Universal Design

Architects Selwyn Goldsmith and Ronald Mace were leaders in the field of universal design. Both contracted polio in their childhood but this did not stop them from championing the disability rights movement. Today, Mace is widely recognised in the universal design movement. However, Goldsmith was very active in the UK and wrote four books. The last of which was in 2000, titled Universal Design.

Although the book is more than 20 years old, it remains a good reference for architects with some wise advice on attitude.

“The architect does not start with the presumption that people with disabilities are abnormal, are peculiar and different… [or] packaged together with a set of special-for-the-disabled accessibility standards, … presented in top down mode as add-ons to unspecified normal provision.” Image from The Guardian

Head and shoulders of Selwyn Goldsmith. Photo from The Guardian.

Today’s universal design campaigners still find this attitude within the general design community. The resistance to that paradigm change Goldsmith discusses remains 25 years on.

From the Routledge book description

Universal Design presents detailed design guidance for architects in an easily referenced form. Covering both public buildings and private housing, it includes informative anthropometric data, along with illustrative examples of the planning of circulation spaces, sanitary facilities, car parking spaces and seating spaces for wheelchair users in cinemas and theatres. It is a valuable manual in enhancing understanding of the basic principles of ‘universal design’.

The aim – to encourage architects to extend the parameters of normal provision, by looking to go beyond the prescribed minimum design standards of the Part M building regulation, Access and facilities for disabled people.”

The contents of the book include

  • Building users: Mobility Equipment; Ambulant disabled people; Wheelchair users; Scooter users; Pushchair users;
  • Anthropometric measures; Ambulant people; Wheelchair users;
  • Heights of fixtures and fittings; Mirrors; Windows; Shelves; Work surfaces; Digital code panels; Socket outlets; Vertical Circulation; Steps and stairs; Ramps; Handrails; Spaces for wheelchair manoeuvre; Movement through door openings; Entrances to buildings; Entrance lobbies;
  • Sanitary facilities; Cloakroom lobbies; WCs; Wash basins; Baths and bathrooms; Shower and shower rooms; Changing rooms and dressing rooms; Lifts; Platform lifts and stairlifts; Seating spaces; Kitchens; Bedrooms; Car parking spaces.
Front cover of Selwyn Goldsmith's book, Universal Design. Purple blue background with white text and graphic images.

Goldsmith’s first book was in 1963 titled Designing for the Disabled – an entirely new concept at the time. He expanded this publication in 1967. A third book in 1992, Designing for the Disabled – The New Paradigm, expanded his focus to children and prams. His research led to the first kerb cuts in the UK. Selwyn Goldsmith died in 2011.

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