Universal Design in architectural practice.

Patterns to support the implementation of Universal Design in architectural practice.

1. Introduction.

With demographic ageing as one of the major drivers, social awareness of existing barriers between peoples' needs and the built environment has grown considerably over the last decades. The same shift of focus can be observed in design, where design practice is moving away from designing for the non-existing average man or woman, towards designing for the real diversity of people . A new design paradigm has gradually emerged, replacing the ‘design for special needs' approach to human diversity. This new ‘Universal Design' paradigm aims to stimulate new, creative solutions that will contribute to a better quality of life for all users, including people with permanent or temporary disabilities.

The implementation of this new design paradigm into design practice requires detailed knowledge of the needs of the largest possible diversity of people. However, gathering this information and making it available to designers in a way that supports the design process calls for a new concept of design support tool.

For Christopher Alexander, the entire community of users - both past and present - works by means of innumerable large and small, formal and informal ‘structure preserving transformations' of a built environment to provide accommodation in a meaningful and versatile way for human needs and aspirations (Alexander 2003). He developed a pattern language (Alexander, Ishikawa, and Silverstein 1977) as a generic system to nurture and to guide human building processes. Both Alexander's pattern language and the more recent specific initiative of a group of software architects to develop collective design patterns ((Gamma et al. 1995) provide inspiration for the development of Patterns as a tool for the implementation of Universal Design in architecture. Successful collective web-based projects in open content further inspired the development of models of UD patterns and the search for strategies for implementation.

2. Universal Design.

For centuries, designers have used Vitruvius' universal man as a model for the end-users of the built environment they designed. The idea of designing for the ‘average' or ‘standard' user has dominated design until the second half of the 20th century? Design solutions generated by this design approach call for adaptation de soi [adaptation of the self] (Grosbois 2003), whenever a conflict between the needs of the user and the built environment arises.

Several factors contributed to the gradual replacement of this ‘one size fits all' approach by a new design paradigm in the second half of the 20th century. The ‘Design for Special Needs' paradigm was mainly inspired by the post World War II emancipation movements, and the ‘independent living' movement in particular, requesting physical accessibility to the built environment. As a response to this, ‘ad hoc' solutions for specific user groups were added on to the design.

Over the last two decades, a shift in the perception of the partial cause of disability from the individual person (the medical model) to the confrontation of the individual with the built environment (social model) has been the starting point for the new ‘Universal Design' paradigm (*ref AMJ). Universal Design, or inclusive design, aims to minimize possible conflicts between users and the built environment by taking the needs of the broadest possible range of users into account from the start of the design process. Universally designed environments call for adaptation à soi [adaptation to the self] (Grosbois 2003): it provides inclusive design solutions, usable by a wide variety of users, complemented by alternative solutions if different users' needs prove to be incompatible.

Jane Alexander, in her introduction to ‘Strategies for teaching Universal Design' clearly describes the Universal Design concept:

The concept of universal design goes beyond the mere provision of special features for various segments of the population. Instead it emphasizes a creative approach that is more inclusive, one that asks at the outset of the design process how a product, graphic communication, building, or public space can be made both aesthetically pleasing and functional for the greatest number of users. Designs resulting from this approach serve a wider array of people including individuals with temporary or permanent disabilities, parents with small children, and everyone whose abilities change with age. (Alexander 1995)

The emergence of Universal Design translates into the need for a support tool that will allow architects to integrate this new design paradigm into their design process. Central to the UD design paradigm is the expertise accumulated by users-experts as an important source of information to achieve more universal design solutions. Users-experts have first-hand knowledge about existing conflicts between their needs and the built environment, which could help designers to develop more universal solutions. However, despite the availability of such tools, there are still barriers to the uptake of UD design principles in architectural practice.

3. Universal Design in Architectural Practice.

Several studies have tried to identify possible barriers to the incorporation of UD principles in design practice in many design disciplines. Results show designers are often lacking motivation for the implementation of UD, because it is still equated with ‘Design for special needs' and ‘functional but ugly' design solutions (Cassim 2005). Furthermore, time and budget restrictions prevent designers from looking into the UD aspects of the design beyond legal requirements (Keates and Clarkson 2003); and although designers often wish to have direct contact with users, the current design process does not accommodate user involvement (Dong, Keates, and Clarkson 2003). Moreover, designers fear that taking a wide variety of user needs into account will act as a creative restraint (Cassim and Dong 2007). Finally, existing design information often focuses on one user group in particular, preventing design solutions from becoming truly universal (Keates and Clarkson 2003).

When looking at the requirements for the support of UD in design practice, some research has been carried out. While designers need information about users, it is critical that “end user information should include all relevant aspects of product interaction. However, (…) industrial designers have no wish to plough through many pages of data to find snippets of information.” (Keates and Clarkson 2003). Therefore, the information should be inspirational and unrestrictive, and consist of possibilities, not rules; the information should be presented in an easily accessible format (Dong, Keates, and Clarkson 2003; Nickpour and Dong 2009). Overall, designers express a preference for webbased information, because it is perceived as current, relevant and open-ended (Cassim and Dong 2007). Support tools for UD should give an overview of UD design issues, provide understanding of user needs through sufficiently detailed data, and help determine who will be excluded from use by the design choice made (Goodman-Deane et al. 2008).

Although few studies have been carried out in the field of architectural design in particular to confirm these findings, a recent survey including 406 Flemish architects indicates that architects largely share the needs of other designers. Results show that architects are motivated to implement UD principles, but currently, there are not sufficient tools available to them (*ref CWUAAT?). Additional information should focus on the design of public buildings and environments rather than the design of dwellings, and should provide descriptive information rather than prescriptive rules (Weytjens, Verdonck, and Verbeeck 2009).

In summary, new tools to support UD in architectural practice are needed, and should provide the architect with a clear overview of relevant user needs for the broadest possible range of users, as well as inspiration for possible design solutions. Architects should also be able to determine the effects of their design choices on the Universal Design quality of the project. This information should be relevant and up-to-date, preferably organized in a web-based format. Based on these criteria, Patterns could be appropriate as a design tool for UD in architectural practice.

4. The concept of Patterns for Universal Design

Patterns can provide relevant information in a structured way both about problems (conflicts) that occur between users and built environments and empirically supported architectural/technological solutions (resolutions). Since the documented solutions are always tentative and a large amount of room remains open for innovative concepts, the pattern approach can be viewed as an adapted problem definition method. Because of the detailed description of existing problems in the conflicts, they differ fundamentally from the many prescriptive legal ordinances and building regulations that are presently used in design and building processes. The conflicts accurately capture descriptions of the ‘why' for each design parameter, and designers can consult them to determine if a design choice will create barriers for certain user groups.

In order to generate this type of pattern for Universal Design (UD Pattern), existing problems between users and the built environment must be accurately mapped and structured into a number of linked UD Patterns. Gradually, a UD Pattern database will be developed, which has to be kept up to date with the evolving reality of the built environment.

4.1 Structure of UD Patterns.

In the complex interface zone between users and built environments, problems in terms of a number of disabling handicap situations (conflicts) can be detected and be analyzed in specific UD patterns.

The crux of the proposed UD Pattern approach lies in the integration of all the different and often conflicting requirements for different user groups in sets of coherent UD Patterns. A checklist of the user-environment conflicts was developed, based on the five-chapter scheme represented in the Dutch architectural design guide ‘Geboden Toegang' [Access Provided] (SNG Stichting Nederlandse Gehandicaptenraad 1986). A specific sixth category of Modal users (average, standard) is added in our research process, and highlights the mainstreaming of Universal Design and the emphasis on potential handicap situations for all users (Froyen 2008).

Design-relevant categories of users:

- 0.0 Modal users (average, standard). This includes users who are tired, pregnant, stressed, absent-minded, ill or injured, undergoing medical treatment, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, as well as travellers with a pram or with heavy or sizeable objects.
- 1.0 Users with neuromusculoskeletal and movement related functional limitations.
- 2.0 Users with sensory limitations.
- 3.0 Users with organic defects.
- 4.0 Users of exceptional size.
- 5.0 Users with mental and / or psychological limitations.

To determine relevant sets of patterns, the built environment has to be decomposed into the smallest possible relevant elements or aspects. (users-built environment model???) These social-spatial elements or aspects are the base used to formulate patterns.

As relatively autonomous and small databases, each of the hundreds of UD Patterns has an identical structure (Froyen 2008; Froyen et al. 2009):

• Introductory paragraph with references to related (macro) UD Patterns for which this specific UD Pattern serves as a supplement.

• Problem Definition (CONFLICTS)

• Results and sources of empirical research

• Architectural / Technological solution (RESOLUTION)

• Closing paragraph with references to related (micro) UD Patterns that supplement and round out this specific pattern.

4.2 The UD Pattern Database

Patterns are most often hierarchically associated with larger scale and/or smaller scale related patterns. Three different scales of UD patterns are defined to form a database of interrelated UD Patterns. The large scale patterns describe a specific setting of the built environment in general, while the intermediate scale patterns describe semi-autonomous parts of these settings, and their relation to other such parts. Small scale patterns focus on individual elements or aspects, and provide a detailed description of its characteristics.

The database of UD patterns is further conceptualized as a web-based tool that allows for the exchange of information in real-time. As a result, the UD Pattern database will not only be a database to be referenced, but also a forum where, through the continuously evolving interpretation of and discussion about UD, a temporary consensus about UD design practice can be achieved. This requires a continual process of pattern generation and pattern updating, presented in figure 4.

Three distinct parties are involved in the process of generating and updating UD Patterns (Froyen et al. 2009):

- The Research & Development Team. A team with specialists from different medical and paramedical disciplines, with architects, interior architects, engineers, product designers, communication specialists, IT specialists, and psychologists.
- Users / Experts. A user / expert can be anyone who has developed natural experience in dealing with the challenges of our built environment (Ostroff 1997).
- Designers and Decision-makers in the process of building production (Ball 1998). Universal Design Patterns are primarily developed as supportive tools for those who design, construct and maintain the built environment.

In principle, the Research & Development Team will take the initiative to generate or to update specific UD Patterns, but also Users-experts can detect and communicate misfits in the interaction with objects, urban spaces, and buildings. Finally, Designers and Decision-makers in the process of building production can analyse the formulated conflicts and can document technological and morphological resolutions.

5. Conclusions and further work.

The concept of UD Patterns yields satisfying results in the academic field, but in order to be successful on a larger scale in the social and in the professional realm, further research is needed to determine the needs of the intended users of the UD Pattern database. This will ensure the database can be developed as a useful tool for architects, making sure that it fits into their design process and provides the desired information at the right time.

The American project ‘The Anthropometrics of Disability' and the Dutch Delft University's ‘Antropometrisch Informatie Systeem' (AIS) are two advanced and inspirational international initiatives, with goals similar to the UD Pattern database. Most closely related to our presented UD pattern, however, is a more modest local initiative, developed in 2000 by D-science lab, an Antwerp Design Sciences

Research Center in Belgium.

Their AGEtree database has recently been taken offline, as it was no longer possible to keep it updated, due to a lack of financial and logistic support. This nearby example highlights in a dramatic fashion the biggest obstacle our elaborated methodological universal design tool will probably also be faced with, namely the substantial and long-term off-line academic, professional and material support needed to develop and to permanently update and improve an on-line database and a related web-based discussion forum.

UD Patterns are not intended as universal criteria for good architecture. Conventional aspects such as aesthetic qualities, culturalhistorical values, sustainability, safety and economic values must also be included in every design (Froyen 2003).The universal design paradigm neither hinders nor promotes any specific architectural style. Instead, it puts an emphasis on a user-centered approach rather than a design-centred attitude (Whitney 2003).

6. References.

Alexander, C. 2003. New concepts in complexity theory, arising from studies in the field of architecture: An overview of the Four Books of The Nature of Order with emphasis on the scientific problems which are raised. Katarxis (3), www.katarxis3.com.

Alexander, C., S. Ishikawa, and M. Silverstein. 1977. A pattern language. New York: Oxford University Press.

Alexander, Jane. 1995. Introduction. In Strategies for teaching Universal Design, edited by P. Welch. Boston: Adaptive Environments Center.

Ball, M. 1998. Institutions in British property research: a review. Urban Studies 35 (9):1501-1517.

Cassim, J., and H. Dong. 2007. Empowering Designers and Users: Case studies from the DBA Inclusive Design Challenge. In Design for Inclusivity. A practical guide to accessible, innovative and user-centred design, edited by R. Coleman, J. Clarkson, H. Dong and J. Cassim: Gower.

Cassim, Julia. 2005. Designers are users too: attitudinal and information barriers to inclusive design within the design community. Paper read at Include 2005 Conference, at Londen.

Dong, Hua, S Keates, and P. J. Clarkson. 2003. Designers and manufacturers' perspectives on inclusive/universal design. Paper read at International conference on engineering design (ICED 03), at Stockholm.

Froyen, Hubert. 2003. Universal design education. In Universal design education. Proceedings of the UD Education Contact Forum, Brussels, Belgium, edited by M. Dujardin and I. Dua.

———. 2008. Universal Design Patterns and their use in designing inclusive environments. In Designing Inclusive Futures, edited by P. Langdon, J. Clarkson and P. Robinson. Londen: Springer.

Froyen, Hubert, Evelien Verdonck, Dirk De Meester, and Ann Heylighen. 2009. Mapping and Documenting conflicts between Users and Built Environments. Paper read at Include 2009, International Conference on Inclusive Design, 5-8 April 2009, at London.

Gamma, E., R. Helm, R. Johnson, and J. M. Vlissides. 1995. Design Patterns, Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software. Reading: Addison-Wesley.

Goodman-Deane, J, P Langdon, S Clarke, and P. J. Clarkson. 2008. User involvement and user data: a framework to help designers to select appropriate methods. In Designing Inclusive Futures, edited by P. Langdon, J. Clarkson and P. Robinson. Londen: Springer.

Grosbois, L.P. 2003. Handicap et construction. 6 ed. Paris: Le Moniteur.

Keates, S, and P. J. Clarkson. 2003. Countering design exclusion: bridging the gap between usability and accessibility. Universal access in the information society 2 (3):215-225.

Nickpour, Farnaz, and Hua Dong. 2009. Anthropometrics without numbers! An investigation of designers' use and preferences of people data. Paper read at INCLUDE 2009, at Londen.

Ostroff, Elaine. 1997. Mining our Natural Resources: the User as Expert. Innovation, the Quarterly Journal of the Industrial Designers Society of America (ISDA) 16 (1).

SNG Stichting Nederlandse Gehandicaptenraad. 1986. Geboden Toegang. Utrecht: Stichting Nederlandse Gehandicaptenraad.

Weytjens, Lieve, Evelien Verdonck, and Griet Verbeeck. 2009. Classification and Use of Design Tools: The roles of tools in the architectural design process. Design Principles and Practices: an international journal 3 (1):289-302.

Whitney, P. 2003. Design in a global world. Interview with professor Patrick Withney on 4 november 2002. EAAE News Sheet 66 (june):17-25.

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