It’s often said that universally designed dwellings need extra space. Designing accessible studio units puts that myth to bed. It’s how you design the space that makes the difference. It’s all about being creative.
According to Studio Bright, a project of four units are designed to accommodate Gold Livable Housingstandards. The second living or study space can be closed-off to become a second bedroom for a caregiver or visitor.
Each unit is designed to catch natural light and is set in thoughtful landscaping. The four car parking spaces are flexible areas for communal outdoor space. Fruit trees and other plantings help foster a sense of community. The L-shaped units can be arranged in different ways, which means this model can be rolled out on other sites.
The 2022 edition of the National Construction Code mandates equivalent of Livable Housing Silver Level. At first it was assumed small studio units couldn’t meet this standard and should be exempt. However, here are four floor plans to show how to do it. In some respects it’s easier to meet the standard because there is no waste space with corridors an there are only two doors. Have a look at the examples below.
Although the equivalent of Livable Housing Silver level features will be in the National Construction Code, each state and territory hasyet to implementit in their respective codes.
What home modifications are needed most and how much are they needed? Mary Ann Jackson analysed 50 home modification reports in Victoria to get an answer. She found that when it comes to ageing in place we are not there yet.
The homes visited all had a doorsill or step at the front door and tight spaces. A screen door complicated matters, and meter boxes also intruded on entry space. Many of the fittings, such as taps and handles were poorly designed to suit ageing in place.
Jackson advises that accessibility issues are endemic to Australia’s existing housing stock. This is a big problem when 39.5% of households include a person with disability.
Architect and Planner Jackson says, “Cooperation, collaboration, and a clear recognition of the emotional, physical, and economic cost-benefit of ageing in place will be needed to rebuild Australia’s housing stock to better accommodate all inhabitants throughout life.” The title of the newsletter article is Ageing in place – are we there yet?
The picture above is famous for its technical compliance, but not usability, and definitely not aesthetics.
Older people and perception of home
Within the findings of an AHURI report is a section on the qualitative research on older people and the perceptions of their homes in terms of ageing in place. The reportis titled, “The role of home maintenance and modification services in achieving health community care and housing outcomes in later life”, and is by Andrew Jones, Desleigh de Jonge and Rhonda Phillips for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, 2008.
Consumers buy things that they want and need now rather than purchasing things with the future in mind. Well, that makes sense. For everyday items this poses no problems. But for expensive, longer lasting items, such as a home, it can be a problem. Many older Australians live in a home that was purchased in mid life. It was suitable then. But now that cherished home is challenging their independence in older age. That’s why all homes should have universal design features.
A new report based on a survey of care-givers, both paid and unpaid, provides insights into their experiences and observations on the impact of home design on their caring role. The researchers found that housing design features and proximity to amenities had a value that extended beyond those of residents. That is, it facilitates community capacity and social engagement, physical wellbeing and ease of providing care services.
The executive summary concludes with a statement that supports universal design in housing for people to age well:
“The public value implicit in universally designed housing is conceptually demonstrated by associated increases in ageing well outcomes and reduction in the need for, the level of, and the time spent on, care to support positive ageing outcomes (ie. generating efficiency gains in achieving ageing well outcomes).
The key findings of the study
Universal design features impact on the level of care needed to support ageing well.
The location of the home and access to amenities also has an impact on the level of care needed.
The time needed to support people with basic living activities is reduced.
The study was undertaken by RMIT University and the Longevity Group Australia.
Abstract:In this report, we explore the public value implicit in housing incorporating universal design principles. Value is conceptually demonstrated by identifying housing design and location attributes, associated with increases in ageing well outcomes via the reduction in the need for, the level of, and the time spent on care to support ageing in place. To do this a survey instrument is developed to capture the experiential knowledge of in home care service providers and their observations of the impact of the home on the ageing well outcomes of the seniors they care for and also on their capacity to provide care. We find that certain housing design and location feature have value that extends beyond that experienced solely by its residents, facilitating community capacity and social engagement, physical wellbeing and ease of delivery of public services such as care support.
Time has come for the housing industry to catch up with the rest of society. Inclusion and diversity are now recognised as Australian values. Discrimination still exists of course, but many sectors, business and government, are striving to do better. That means designing products and services to embrace population diversity. However, the housing industry continues to resist change. They say it will substantially increase the cost of building a home. But how much is “substantially”.
One of the reasons the housing industry says it will cost more is because level entry is difficult to achieve on a steep slope. This can be true, but that is no reason for no change at all. Exceptions would be made for one-off situations. Besides, mass market housing in a greenfield site is rarely on a steep slope – these are not favoured by developers. That’s because it cuts down on building efficiency. But any excavation needed benefits builders too.
Two eminent economists responded to the call to comment on the draft changes and have concluded that benefits outweigh the costs. Dense reading but the document challenges the ABCB analysis at every point. They also conclude that Gold level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines are not only beneficial to the community but they offer the best value overall.
Australia Cannot Afford NOT to Build Accessible Homes, gives an overview of why we must mandate universal design features now. We’ve had ten years for Livable Housing Australia to show that it can do this voluntarily. It has failed. It’s time for them to come good.
Home builders argue that people won’t pay extra for universal design features. The assumption of extra cost aside, they are also assuming that people wouldn’t pay more. But would they? A study from Europe asked just that question and the answers are surprising. Renting is the norm in many European countries and so it is difficult to compare with owning. However, finding out how much extra rent people are prepared to pay gives us some indication.
A survey of renters in Germany and Slovakia found that 40 per cent would pay an extra 10% more, and 40 per cent would pay up to 20% more for a more accessible dwelling. Only 12% said they would not pay more. And the age of the respondents wasn’t a factor in the findings. The survey covered many other aspects of home living, and the findings are detailed in the article. There’s lots to take away from this study – the willingness to pay more for an adaptable or accessible dwelling is just one factor.
Editor’s Note: Another way to measure the worth of universal design in housing is to ask, “How much would you pay to stay home and not go to aged care – what would that be worth?”
Abstract:The role of this study was to determine which changes people think they need to make in their home in response to getting older. At an advanced age, the likelihood of different limitations, such as vision impairment, hearing impairment, or physical inability, are increased. At present, when faced with such limitations, tenants are often forced to leave their long-term living spaces, as these spaces cannot serve their “new” individual needs. This transition from the privacy of their home to a new environment is often a painful change. They must leave a well-known environment, as their homes cannot be adapted to their new needs. The aim of this paper is to develop a comprehensive approach for the design of an exterior and interior space which can serve people through all stages of life, particularly in terms of mobility. This means that, even if an unexpected situation incurs changes in an individual’s movement abilities or physiological limitations not only by natural aging, but also according to accidents or disabilities their living space can be adapted to the given conditions. The results of a survey conducted in Germany and Slovakia are presented. In the survey, respondents expressed their opinion on what they considered important in creating an adaptive environment, considering various life changes. Based on the results of the survey, studies of possible modifications of flats and houses are developed. These results are analyzed in terms of three age groups: people aged below 35, those aged 35–50, and those aged over 50. People under 35 are considered to be quite young, with different views on life and on the environment. Their priorities typically differ from those of people around 50. People aged 50 more; have been under medical treatment for a consistent amount of time. This group of people is still active; however, they experience different design requirements for their potential home.
What do government representatives think is the best way to supply homes suitable for people with disability? A research study by an occupational therapist and an architect found out. Mandating accessible features in all new mainstream housing is the way to go. That means both owners and renters would benefit. Plus it would suit ageing in place and not be detrimental to the rest of the population. One participant suggested that the Livable Housing Design Guidelines should be turned into an Australian Standard. That would also help guide home renovations. The research also looked at technology and support issues.
In the Results section of the article, authors Libby Callaway and Kate Tregloan summarise the participants comments about making all homes accessible:
“Several opportunities to take advantage of, and to stimulate, both accessible and adaptable housing supply and demand were identiﬁed through the focus group. Participant 5 stated, “This is a conversation about housing for people with disability, not disability housing”. Aiming to design and build homes that may also be rented on the open market or on-sold highlighted the need for suitable housing models beyond single houses. This need for a range of housing options, suitable for on-selling, has been identiﬁed in both current research and NDIS policy documents (Wiesel et al. 2015a; National Disability Insurance Agency 2016c). Roundtable participants recommended a legislative approach to increase accessible housing supply. They felt this would ensure an increase in volume via inclusion of accessible design principles and relevant standards within regulations for all buildings (e.g. via the Building Code of Australia) and other regulatory devices. This was seen to offer beneﬁts to people with disability as well as other community groups, such as ageing Australians who want to remain living at home. It was anticipated that a relatively low-cost impost would offer great community beneﬁt, depending on the level of requirement established (e.g. silver-level Livable Design compliance; Livable Housing Australia, 2012). Participants suggested this approach may offer greater ﬂexibility for any subsequent home modiﬁcations required for people with disability. Participant 7 summarised the need for further work in this area: “Making all housing accessible isn’t already a national level of discussion . . . Liveable Housing design can be taken over [and incorporated] into the Australian Standards”
There is much more to this study which includes inclusive communities, integrated technology and transportation.
Editor’s note: While such an approach will suit most people with disability, there are some people who will need a home designed or adapted around their particular needs and that of their carers. This is the role of the Specialist Disability Housing funded under the NDIS.
Environments that include older people include everyone else too. So it’s good to ask older people what works for them. The findings from a Helsinki study indicate that neighbourhood design, public transport and green environments influence mobility and social integration. Mainstream housing design is a key factor in supporting older people to stay within their communities.
The title of the dissertation by Ira Verma is, Housing Design for All? The challenges of ageing in urban planning and housing design – The case of Helsinki. The abstract summarises the findings well.
From the abstract: The results indicate that the neighbourhood design, public transport network and proximity of green environments influence mobility and the sense of integration within a community. Moreover, the length of residency was related to the familiarity of the living environment, which gave residents a sense of security, and supported their activities of daily life. Furthermore, the results show that older residents preferred the local services that were the most accessible ones.
Comprehensive design and a versatile environment with various activities may promote Ageing in Place policies and enhance cross-generational social encounters. Moreover, many obstacles caused by reduced physical and sensory functioning capacities can be lessened by applying Universal Design of the built environment. Architects and urban planners have a major role in designing the city and ensuring that it does not exclude any resident groups. Mainstream housing developments with attention to a variety of resident groups will enhance living at home at old age. Moreover, frail people with high care needs should experience being part of community life. Collaboration with local service providers, schools, cafés and restaurants may enable to providing a variety of activities to the residents in sheltered housing.
The Housing Industry Association website has a page tucked away titled, Aesthetically Accessible. It shows how designing and constructing a bathroom can be “accessible to people of all abilities and ages”. And it is becoming much easier, “with more beautiful results than ever”. The key points for accessibility are discussed in the article with lots of pictures. Livable Housing Design Guidelines are mentioned, and so they should. HIA was one of the stakeholders in the development of the Guidelines. However, this is only one page relating to accessibility. More recent news on bathrooms returns to the regular design ideas and the importance of fashion trends and style inspiration without reference to the Guidelines. Universal design and inspired style are compatible – they are not mutually exclusive.
Editor’s comment: At the recent access consultants’ conference, the Chair of of LHA, Alex Waldron, said that LHA maintains its stance on voluntary adoption of the guidelines. This leads to the conclusion that they will not be supporting changes to the National Construction Code proposed by the Australian Building Codes Board.
“This book embeds the principles of how we should approach the design of future housing for an ageing population, reminding us that this is not about `other people’, but about each of us.
This book focuses on anticipating the needs and aspirations of the next generation of older people, and touches on what this implies for our communities, our towns and our cities, as well as for our living spaces.It will look at how well-designed buildings can facilitate the provision of care, support independence and wellbeing while providing companionship and stimulation. It will also examine how to ensure that buildings remain flexible over a long life.
Dealing mainly with new-build, but with a section on adaptation and refurbishment, this book sets out the underlying design principles that should be applied and the early decisions that must be taken. Richly illustrated with case studies alongside contributions from a range of experts and examples of best practice, this comprehensive resource will inform and empower architects, designers, planners and clients to be braver and wiser in designing with older people in mind.”
The current standard design ideas for homes goes back more than a century. It’s time for a rethink on home design to suit the way we live our lives now is the claim in an article by Kirsty Voltz in The Conversation.
Home designs are not keeping up with societal changes that include affordability, size of homes, accessibility across the lifespan, and designing so that as lives change, the interior of the home can adapt to suit.
The risks are in not recognising the need to change and adapt to current circumstances, lifestyles, societal changes and personal aspirations. The article contains links to other references and concludes, “Existing housing stock is designed around the numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms that appeal to the market and so fails to be responsive to what people need from housing in the 21st century.”
The picture is of the 3 bedroom home that Kirsty Voltz designed to fit in the space of an obsolete driveway.