Architecture is more than simply the practice of designing and delivering buildings; it creates a space for connection and facilitates the making of memories. Essentially it’s a critical tool for creating experiences. It follows that those experiences should be as positive as possible, and they should also be available to the widest possible range of people. This is where inclusive architecture comes in, in both public and private spaces.
So how does this apply to home design? While many homeowners understandably want their home to be customised, the level of customisation versus inclusivity/diversity largely depends on the long-term plans for the house. However, whether it’s design and construction in Sydney or elsewhere, some principles can be applied to most houses and public spaces because life inevitably includes people of all ages, abilities, preferences and backgrounds.
Disability and vision impairmentArguably the most obvious place to start is disability, including vision impairment. While a private home can be tailored to include grab bars, ramps, contrasting colours and even braille, more consideration for disabled people in public spaces is also needed.
When discussing disability-friendly architecture, Mei-Yee Man Oram, Accessible Environments co-lead at Arup, says that we need to “continually challenge perceptions of what’s considered ‘normal’ or conventional in architecture. By challenging (or removing) the idea of what’s normal, we can widen our capabilities as designers of the built environment and better serve our users.”
AgeGiven our ageing population, designing architecture for the long term has become a focus for many practices. While some age-related modifications are similar to those required by disability, certain ideas are worth thinking about for the future, or as you start to reach a certain age.
A few ideas to make a home more age-friendly include:
- Access ramps
- Replacing round door knobs with lever handles
- Add slip-resistant materials to any relevant areas (i.e. kitchen, bathroom, access ramps)
- Wider doorways with flat floors to accommodate wheelchairs and walking frames
- Accessible shower
- Improve the lighting in your home and positioning furniture to best access existing natural light
There are many other small ways that architects can tailor home and public building design to be inclusive of the elderly.
Children and young peopleWhen it comes to catering for children and young people, a lot of temporary solutions are appropriate as the child doesn’t stay at one development stage for very long. Most parents baby-proof their house with covers, locks, baby gates and replacing glass with plastic but their needs change as the children grow and many couples want to maintain their sense of style in the midst of baby-proofing (a definite possibility).
When building a ‘forever home’, try to think about the needs of your children as they get older. Having a separate living space or rumpus room that can be closed off from the main living/dining area is a great way to cohabitate with teenagers peacefully and when designing a house for a family, consider whether you want the children to have their own rooms/en suites or share.
CultureWhen you destroy a city or country’s buildings, you destroy a part of its culture. Despite war and natural disasters, throughout history architects have rebuilt and restored both homes and public spaces that have been damaged or destroyed. When it comes to diversity, it is fair to say that architecture and design haven’t always reflected the full range of people groups inhabiting buildings. Inclusive architecture finds shared points of reference in public spaces to bind a diverse population together and deepen the meaning of their lives. It is worth noting that socioeconomic status and poverty can also be barriers to certain sections of the population accessing services and areas, and it is important to consider whether the design of a building includes people or creates barriers of exclusivity.
Inclusive architecture spans a broad range of buildings and end user requirements, but as a starting point when thinking about inclusivity there are some basic but important questions we must ask ourselves as architects and home designers, whether designing a flat in Sydney or a building in a city’s centre. Does everyone see themselves in the architecture around them? Is everyone part of the story?