Architectural Theory, Building Design, Building Safety, Design Guide, Design Theory

7 Inclusive Design Principles and Examples in Architecture

If we enter a space and are met with these impractical designs that don’t aid our everyday needs, we would be a little more than just disappointed.

Architecture and design are powerful tools that have the ability to build a physical space in which everyone feels a sense of belonging. The way places are designed affects a person’s ability to move, see, hear and communicate effectively. 

But with the interest to satisfy the aesthetic needs of the clients, most architects tend to overlook the necessity for a more inclusive design which has to be functional for all regardless of age, gender and capabilities. 

Inclusive design strategies for building design

You can make sure you set out to design universally by keeping the following few points in mind:

  1. Start Early
  2. Design for a wider range of people
  3. Implement Co-design
  4. Make inclusivity a standard
  5. Include all kinds of disabilities
  6. Reduce reliance
  7. Create a space that engages all

Start during the early design process:

Inclusive design aims to remove all kinds of barriers that create excessive effort and consequently, separation. Therefore, It is important to identify these barriers as early as possible in the design process so that open minded designing can overcome them. 

  • Make a list of the types of users who will be using the space
  • Study their anthropometry and dimensions during the initial designing phase itself
  • Design keeping these in mind

Practical examples:

  1. Ed Roberts campus in Berkeley, USA is a good example. The campus uses a ramp itself as its central design idea, with the other elements arranged around it, creating a hierarchy. Further, all kinds of interventions for the physically, visually, auditorily and mentally impaired are also employed. 
 Ed Robert's Campus, Berkeley
Ed Robert’s Campus, Berkeley

Design For a Wider Range of People:

Inclusive design for all kinds of people

It is rarely possible to design interventions that can be comfortably used by every single group of people. For example, for a space built to be used by all age groups, it is impossible to make every intervention inclusive for both an adult man and a child. Their anthropometry is very different to be able to achieve it. 

  • Design for a wider range, accommodating as many differences as possible. This way, at least more than one group can benefit from it. 
  • Try giving more than one option or make the design flexible. 
  • Find creative solutions or research and take ideas from the people who have already found good solutions for the problem you are trying to fix. 

Practical examples:

  1. Restructuring steps can be installed in order to make it easy for the physically impaired and the elderly. 
  2. Installing motion-sensored entrances instead of door handles makes it easier for patients with arthritis. 
Motion Sensored Doors
Motion Sensored Doors

Importance of Co-design:

Co-design methods for inclusive design

It’s very easy to overlook simple things just because we are fully capable of performing them. But that’s not the case for everyone. This is why it is important to involve the party who the design is being done for the ones who are going to benefit from it. Not only will it give them a sense of involvement and independence, it also creates new opportunities to deploy creative and problem-solving skills. 

  • Make a list of the groups of people who will be using the space. 
  • Try to include as many people as possible from the above list, from the initial designing process itself. 

Practical examples:

  1. East End North park remodeling in Johannesburg, South Africa involved the process of co-design in which even the residents and the homeless people in the park were involved in order to make the park inclusive and welcoming. 
East End North Park, Johannesburg
East End North Park, Johannesburg

Make Inclusivity a Standard:

No matter what kind of project you take up, make inclusive designing mandatory. One common mistake architects make is to design the structure first and then try to add interventions for the differently-abled. 

  • Make sure to refer to the books with all the basic standards. 
  • Design with these basic standards in mind for all your projects. 

Practical examples:

  1. One of the basic things that can be done is to build ramps along or instead of staircases. 
  2. Sign boards should be bigger and brighter. 
  3. Switches and buttons should be placed in a height where it is reachable for all groups of people. 
Orange Peel Ramp Design for inclusivity by Paulo Merlini Architects
Orange Peel Ramp Design by Paulo Merlini Architects

Don’t Leave a Disability Behind:

The needs of a wheelchair user is equally important as the limitations experienced by people with learning and communication difficulties, mental illness, visual and auditory impairments. It is also the designers’ duty to make them feel confident enough to access the building or space.

  • Seek out the points where people with different disabilities feel excluded. 
  • Make sure to provide all of them the same experience while using the space. 

Practical examples:

  1. Hazelwood school in Glasgow was designed keeping in mind to provide equal education and opportunities to the visually and auditorily impaired students as the rest of their classmates. The campus provides signifiers and tactile cues to guide students around. 
Interior view of an inclusive school design by Alan Dunlop Architects
Hazelwood School, Glasgow by Alan Dunlop Architects

Reduce reliance:

Reducing reliance with inclusive design in architecture

Regardless of age, gender, capabilities the solutions should enable everyone to participate equally, confidently and independently in everyday activities without the constant need to rely on someone. By designing and managing the built environment inclusively, the frustration and hardship experienced by many– including disabled people, older people and families with small children can be overcome. 

  • Designing inclusively has no drawbacks at all. 
  •  It is a win-win situation for both the designers and the users. 

Practical examples:

  1. The boarding school for the deaf in Gradignan, France not only has a visually stimulating design but also includes visual detectors and automatic devices to assist the students. 
Boarding School for Deaf, Gradignan, France
Boarding School for Deaf, Gradignan, France

Make it Engaging For All:

What makes a space welcoming to use is to make the users feel comfortable enough to actively participate in whatever activities they offer. 

  • Offer ways for all groups of people to participate in the space without help from others. 

Practical examples:

  1. Add captions and subtitles for video presentations for the auditory impaired. 
  2. Allocate wheelchair seating locations in spaces of entertainment.
  3. Carefully analyse the colours and patterns to use for the space to make it comfortable for people with visual impairment. 
Wheelchair space allocation at auditoriums
Wheelchair space allocation at auditoriums

Be it hospitals or malls, the end goal for every designer should be to build spaces which can be used by all groups of people without relying on others. A space designed inclusively not only makes life easier for everyone, but also encourages equality.

Any profession that involves providing service to individuals should have a sense of inclusivity, simply because it’s the right thing to do.

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