‘Universal Design Architecture’s Next Great Frontier’

Posted on May 23, 2011

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Had I known Architect magazine had a one-page piece on universal design in its May 2011 issue, I would have referenced it in my recent blog posting on the same subject.

What I found interesting in this article is the similar acknowledgement that universal design will only grow in importance in the near future. The author, Zach Mortice’s, tagline for the magazine piece likened it to sustainability. If universal design has any resemblance to green design’s trajectory, expect it to be a discussion point everywhere inside the profession, and several places outside it, too.

Universal design is more inclusive and flexible than ADA or barrier-free design. And aging-in-place is only one aspect for its support. As the author points out so well, universal design can benefit us all because “we all fall short of the ‘able-bodied’ ideal.” Even a minor physical hindrance—pregnant, tall, short, or toting a child—can create a major obstacle in a built environment.

As another architect and former boss, Doug Gallow of Lifespan Design Studio, brought to my attention, another angle on universal design’s need has to do with the amazing growth of Alzheimer’s in the U.S. population.  These patients will overlap with the aging-in-place demographic a bit, and those coping with the disease will need environments sensitive to their limitations.

Most people are aware sustainability is going through a “code-based development phase”, i.e. beginning to be formally adopted on some level by municipalities, states and federal-level building codes, industry guidelines, and commercial best practices. What I learned is universal design is also on that path.

For those unfamiliar with this topic, you may want to read up.  Demand for an understanding of universal design will increase.  In the meantime, expect to see and hear a lot more about it.

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Posted in: Design Zeitgeist