UD for a social and sustainable life

A long ladder is resting against the gutter of a two storey houseThe word “sustainability” mostly conjures up notions of clean and green, but social sustainability – an aspect just as important – has been left out of mainstream discussions. This point is made in Universal Design as a Significant Component for Sustainable Life and Social Development. The authors argue that both home and neighbourhood need to be considered for a socially sustainable environment. An evolving criteria for social sustainability is access to facilities and amenities that are vital for people to run errands and do all the everyday things. Going to the shops, a medical appointment, or the cinema should be available to all no matter their age or circumstances. There are useful explanatory graphs in this in-depth paper that emphasises well-being, safety and accessibility. The authors sum up in the conclusion, “The social aspect of sustainability should be emphasized in the mainstream discussion on sustainability because it influences human behaviour and quality of life in many ways”. They also point out that it is environmentally unsustainable to build homes that need major modifications, “which causes pollution, hazardous construction equipment and material and inappropriate methods of wastage removal”. The article can also be found in Asian Journal of Environment-Behaviour Studies.

Abstract: Universally designed environment provides comfort, adaptability and flexibility that can help to reduce human life cycle impact and encourage residents’ participation in the community. With that, the purpose of this conceptual study is to explore the concept of Universal Design (UD) as a significant aspect of social sustainability, based on professional practitioners’ and scholarly views. UD implementation in built environment may cater the needs of diverse users over the changing abilities throughout lifespan. This study concludes that UD has evolved as a significant component for sustainable life and social development within the individual’s own dwelling and the community as well.

Sustainability and Diversity: The role of UD

Two men in hard hats are installing solar panels.Author and architect Vlad Thiery, says the common view of sustainability is mostly related to energy and resource saving, and reducing emissions. Followers of UD have already made links with environmental sustainability and diversity. But it is good to see there are architects willing to put the challenge to colleagues who are yet to embrace the ideas.

In his article Thiery charts the history of UD and then lists the beneficiaries of UD, not just accessibility. In his conclusions Thiery says, “By understanding the actual users and by paying attention to the demographic trends, designers can provide an answer to the needs and aspirations of the contemporary world as well as the generations to come.” He notes that students are still being taught to think about design with an anonymous archetypal user in mind, which doesn’t cater for the actual diversity of the population.

The title of the article is, Universal Design as a Key Feature of the Sustainable Development, and it was published in International Workshop in Architecture and Urban Planning (2015).

The Property Council of Australia has a policy on social sustainability.  The UN Sustainable Development Goals also include universal design and inclusion.


As sustainable development is a process that looks towards the future and the next generations, building for the days to come is, obviously, an important part of it. Thus, universal design with its user centered approach is an appropriate way of shaping the built environment to answer both the contemporary need for diversity and the future changes related to demographic trends. The paper starts from the definition of sustainable development focusing on its goal on meeting human needs and aspiration and is looking at universal design as the proper approach for building an inclusive environment usable by all. The review of the definitions of universal design is followed by a brief presentation of the origins and evolution of the idea and an introduction of similar concepts like Design for All and Inclusive Design. The research then focuses on the beneficiaries of universal design to demonstrate its concern towards a wide range of users and ends with an insight into some demographic trends to be included in designing tomorrow’s built environments.