Universal design and community-based design studios

A long room with a long table with students sitting both sides. They are working on a design project.What’s the best way to teach the concept of universal design to architecture students? Participatory and co-design methods are inherent in universal design. So this should be the way to do it. That means universally designing the learning experience about universal design. 

Hing-Wah Chau takes us on a journey with his post-grad students in his paper about community-based studios. This is a learning process where real life is brought into the design studio. That includes engaging with other stakeholders during the design process. Urban designers, local councils, other architects and community members all have a stake in a project.

Hing-Wah Chau concludes that problem-based learning, group work and industry engagement are essential elements for gaining a working understanding of universal design.  Site visits and engaging with industry partners allowed students to gain first hand experience.

An interesting paper that has a lot of detail about each design studio, their workshops, conference attendance and site visits. It was run over two semesters.

The title of the paper is Community-based studios for enhancing students’ awareness of universal design principles

Abstract: A series of community-based design studios were delivered at the University of Melbourne for postgraduate architectural students from 2017 to 2019 to arouse their awareness of universal design principles and the specific consideration of design for ageing. A design studio is a place of experimentation and exploration. Students are encouraged to propose solutions to respond to our community needs. Bringing real-world issues into design studios enables students to equip themselves with the capabilities to formulate corresponding design strategies for built environment, especially to cater for the specific needs of people with disability and older adults.

Through the engagement with various stakeholders, including practising architects, urban designers, not-for-profit organisations and local councils, students were required to assess the site context and carry out site analysis, prepare precedent case studies, participate in inclusive design workshops and prepare schematic design, leading to their detailed design and final presentations. In this paper, the course structure of these community-based studios is firstly introduced, followed by an analysis illustrating how students’ awareness of universal design principles can be enhanced. Potential areas of improvement are discussed and further guidance for replicating similar studios at other institutions are given.

Universal Design Improves Access Compliance

An old red bus on the street.What can you do to improve compliance with disability access standards when they are misunderstood, seen as too hard to implement, and where buildings are in a serious state of disrepair? This was the challenge set by Australia’s overseas aid program in Sri Lanka. The aim of this project was to find a way to educate built environment professionals in Sri Lanka about complying with disability access regulations. Rather than take a text book approach to explaining the standards, the training group decided to take a universal design approach. That meant focusing on the reasons why certain designs were needed, not just the need to apply the standard.

In her paper on this project, Penny Galbraith details the particular issues Sri Lanka faces. Major heritage sites, assets in complete disrepair, obsolete infrastructure, and transport conveyance designs from previous centuries all contribute to the complexities. “Universal design was the ideal starting point, not least because of its emphasis on users, but also that it allows for acknowledging and embracing cultural factors which is very important given ethnic tension in Sri Lanka”. 

An interesting application of the principles of universal design. It shows that reducing barriers in the built environment is reliant on understanding why, not just how to comply. The title of the paper is, A Practitioner’s Universal Design Approach Making a Difference to Distressed Assets in Sri Lanka

The paper is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication.

Design Council Inclusive Environments CPD

header page for the Design Council CPD course showing a montage of pictures.Inclusion is everybody’s business. By definition it isn’t a fringe activity. Inclusion requires everyone to be involved. In the built environment that means people involved in commissioning places and spaces as well as the trades and certifiers. So it goes beyond access codes and leaving it to access consultants. To help, the Design Council has a free interactive online Inclusive Environments CPD training course. It is about raising awareness of population diversity and why we should be designing more fairly and sustainably. There is also a searchable resource hub that has relevant information and discussion on this subject.