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.
“It’s 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.
Ways to understand universal design
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 people from minority groups 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.
Overall, the researchers found that 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.
Disability: Architecture’s final taboo?
The architectural profession has faced issues of race, gender and sexual diversity, but disability is still a taboo. Awareness raising about people with disability officially began with the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 – forty years ago. But “coming out” with disability still seems harder than claiming your race, gender or gender diversity.
According to an article in the Architects Journal magazine, few architects identify as having a disability. And those that do, face significant challenges in study and professional practice.
Not only is it difficult to enter the profession, but the profession misses out on a pool of life experience that could create better design for everyone. The article relates the professional experiences of four architects with different disabilities.
Their experiences tell the same story as many others. The difficulty in being accepted as part of the group and being taken seriously. It’s little wonder that architects (or any other professional) will “come out” and get the support they need. Amy has multiple chronic illnesses, Ben is deaf, Poppy has a vision impairment, and Roseanne has dwarfism. You can read their experiences in, Is disability architecture’s final taboo?