Understanding universal design in architecture

The building sector in Denmark is transitioning towards a universal design approach. But it has not yet found its way into architectural practice. Legislation and access codes remain the dominant features of design. Two researchers sought answers from young professionals who understand universal design in architecture. The aim was to see if the ideas are beginning to embed themselves in architectural practice.

A person in a powered wheelchair riding along the footpath.

“It is not just about ramps, handrails, and lifts. It is also about organising buildings and outdoor space. It is about showing consideration for those people who are somehow challenged in their physical capability or have cognitive challenges that make it difficult to obtain a good everyday life at work, in school or in day care.”

Quote from survey participant

The researchers surveyed “Frontrunners” – young professionals with an interest in universal design and those who are expected to be on the front line of professional development. They found the frontrunners understood universal design in five ways:

1. Universal design is a driver of social sustainability – they work together.

2. The need to bring design thinking and focus back to the human body and scale.

3. Implementing universal design means going beyond tacked on ramps, and compliance to legislation.

4. Integrating universal design in both the process and the solutions from the perspective of equality. Designers’ need an inclusive mindset so that some are not labelled as “special needs”.

5. Involving minorities in urban planning processes thereby giving them a voice because it’s more than physical access.

The researchers found there was a genuine attempt to mainstream universal design into practice. Their paper discusses these five discourses emerging from their research. The title of the paper is Frontrunners” Understanding Universal Design in Architecture.

The researchers found that overall, participants understood that universal design accommodates human diversity, and should be integrated into the process from the outset.

Their paper was presented at the 6th International Universal Design Conference held 7-9 September 2022 in Brescia, Italy. All papers are open access.

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