Universal design as a driver of housing quality

Big houses are still being built without accessibility in mind. Universal design for housing quality.Although there have been fundamental changes in the building code and regulations in Norway, it seems that none of this has guaranteed improvements in quality on the usability of homes. Perhaps there are some lessons for Australia when it comes to implementing the new building code for housing in 2022. 

Despite going further than most other countries in the direction of performance requirements and universal design, Norway is still struggling with housing quality. Perhaps the reliance on regulations was misplaced in terms of creating quality.

In a research study, the authors conclude that architects, more than any other group in the construction industry are trained to break conventional frameworks. How the regulations are applied by users is the key to success – this is where the education of architects and building designers comes in.

Architects are often willing to innovate, the authors claim. “One chief intention of the building code is to promote universal design in the built environment. It seems that the appending regulations may not follow up the intention as it could be expected. Amendments are probably needed and should be based on a broader view on the design process.”

The title of the article is, Universal Design as a Booster for Housing
Quality and Architectural Practice

It seems we could learn from this experience – regulations are one thing, but applying them appropriately and for maximum effect is another. The abstract gives a good overview of the project. 

Abstract

Norwegian central government has for the last decade increasingly
focused on universal design. Fundamental changes in the Norwegian building code and corresponding regulations in 2010 give an apparently clear framework for the implementation of accessibility and universal design. However, it seems that neither increased awareness of accessibility requirements and universal design, nor compliance with the building code guarantees improvement of housing quality and usability.

The Norwegian regulations have gone further in the direction of performance requirements than most other countries. This applies to all types of requirements, including requirements for usability, functionality and accessibility.

Hardly any specifications are to be found in the regulations. Ideally, this lack of specifications should give designers the opportunity to develop innovative answers and hence to respond to different contexts and needs. Still, many architects and builders ask for clear specifications, in order to simplify and speed up design processes and make control of solutions easier.

Many architects understand guidelines as minimum requirements, and are thus reproducing the identical solutions without considering the context and the needs of the users. They see accessibility as another regulatory pressure and requirements as restrictions rather than positive incentives. However, there are examples of designers who have internalised the regulatory framework and thus are able to create and integrate inclusive design in their daily work.

Based on recent research conducted by SINTEF Building and Infrastructure and financed by the Norwegian State Housing Bank, this paper presents examples of practice where dwellings have been developed within a framework of universal design. Focus of the research has been on the approach of the design team and their understanding and use of the regulatory framework in order to create better homes in dialogue with the building authorities. Main objectives are to:

– Contribute to better understanding of universal design as a tool and a method to improve housing quality and usability
– Investigate the conditions for developing dwellings with innovative and functional solutions in compliance with the building code
– Discuss challenges in interpreting the requirements and in taking the needs of various resident groups into account.