Universal design and BIM

Universal design concepts in their pure form are about creativity rather than set standards. However, building practitioners want more guidance than “make it inclusive and accessible for all”. Two researchers in Canada have attempted to solve this dilemma by connecting universal design and BIM (Building Information Modelling).

BIM is a process that uses tools and technologies to form digital representations of physical and functional aspects of places. Building professionals use this information across a wide spectrum of infrastructure. Weaving universal design principles into BIM processes is essential if we are to create an inclusive built environment.

“Accessibility is a compensatory strategy conceived to prevent discrimination while universal design seeks to change the consciousness of those who create the built environment to address a broader conception of the human body.” – Prof Ed Steinfeld in, The space of accessibility and universal design.

Image of an access ramp – not universal design.

picture showing a zig zag concrete ramp with blue railings

In their paper, the researchers describe the process of developing a model that integrates the BIM database with universal design. In a nutshell, the researchers established a database of universal design elements for designing homes. Then they turned it into a plugin for the BIM system.

“It is recommended that the construction industry starts following the universal design guidelines in new buildings… to increase the lifespan… and reduce the need for future adaptation.”

Three men in hard hats stand on a building site looking at architectural design plans.

Beginning at the conceptual stage


The paper explains in technical terms the creation of the model and database leading to the BIM plugin for universal design. The authors claim designers can instantly access universal design standards and incorporate them at the conceptual stage.

The title of the scientific paper is, Integrating Universal Design Standards and Building Information Modeling at the Conceptual Design Stage of Buildings. The authors continued their research and their next paper in 2024 has a similar title which includes life cycle cost analysis.

There is a similar shorter version of the same study on ResearchGate, titled, Building Information Modeling with Universal Design Requirements for High Accessible Homes. This paper has a case example of a four storey home with four apartments on each floor. Universal design “families” – windows, doors, floors, etc are applied to create a 3D view and and floor plan. The images in the paper show the results. The paper explains in technical terms how the model was developed and then applied in the case example.

From the abstract

A projection of the Canadian population shows that in 2024 one in five Canadians will be over 65 years old. This shift forces designers to consider the entire lifetime of occupants during the design of new buildings. Universal design aims to house people irrespective of their age, ability, and chronic health conditions.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) significantly helps advance the development of the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industry in a more collaborative and automated way. Integrating BIM and universal design allows designers to incorporate universal design at the conceptual design stage using the functionalities of BIM tools.

This study presents the development of an automated computer model to facilitate the adoption of universal design processes. A newly created plug-in will assist designers to incorporate universal design at the conception stage.

BIM and accessible bathrooms

There is a related article on BIM and the evaluation of accessible bathrooms. This is not yet open access, but here is a short extract from the Abstract:

This study aims to demonstrate the practicability and utility of emerging BIM and related digital technologies, applied in the field. In this study, twenty-one accessible bathrooms in three university buildings were assessed.

The study found that across all bathrooms the toilet roll location is unsatisfactory. Other high-risk issues included: Approach: access; Entrance: door fittings and security; and Layout: hazards. The study shows how low-cost BIM and related technologies can be used as a baseline for ongoing post occupancy evaluation.

The title of the research paper is Building information modelling and related technologies applied to the post occupancy evaluation of accessible bathrooms for people with disability. Authored by Newton, Carnemolla and Darcy.

Public Engagement, Virtual Reality and BIM

This study compares VR platforms for community engagement with a view to creating plugins for the BIM system. The results of this experimental study found significant potential for utilising the methods as part of a collaborative approach to design. This was particularly the case for designing a refurbishing public spaces.

The title of the study is Enhancing Public Engagement in Architectural Design: A comparative Analysis of Advanced Virtual Reality Approaches in Building Information Modeling and Gamification Techniques. The article is open access.

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