In recent years the concept of ‘difference’ has been brought into more intense focus. Inclusive design is recognised by businesses, institutions and governing bodies more than ever before and the values of equity, diversity, and inclusion are rightly transforming many aspects of society. Acknowledged across sectors and global markets as an ethical responsibility, it is resulting in positive impacts to organisational performance, creating a sense of belonging and supporting human health and wellbeing.
Designing equitably for the built environment can eliminate experiences of exclusion and address many disparities across our communities and the spaces we inhabit together. Inclusive design focuses on our vast human needs and differences considering, amongst other characteristics, gender identity, ability, age, neurodiversity, race, culture and socioeconomic status. It considers ways in which differing needs intersect, offering the opportunity to problem-solve, innovate and explore solutions.
Axess Condominiums concept
We are redesigning Singapore’s Geylang Serai market to include outdoor gathering areas, green spaces and new cycle lanes, connecting the modern with the traditional, integrating the rich Malay culture and heritage within a vibrant modern district. A new gateway creates a welcoming sense of arrival and the site utilises smart technology to support wayfinding, with positioning technology and in-ground pavement lighting sensors to increase pedestrian safety. Changes of level and pedestrian movement have been enhanced, with accessible paths of travel for wheelchairs, scooters and caregivers pushing strollers, separating pedestrian flow from cycling lanes. Comfortable shading systems and flexible outdoor furniture throughout further support the visitor experience.
Co-designing with intended users has resulted in a new concept called Axess Condominiums, which sets new standards for inclusion in Canada. Envisioned as a vibrant community, the project seamlessly integrates strategies for people living with cognitive and physical disabilities, young families, and those aging-in-place. Early in the project, our team engaged in co-design sessions, documenting lived experiences from families and persons with disabilities to inform the design parameters. As a result, all units are designed as accessible suites. Innovative features include a portion of units with higher levels of accessibility for aging-in-place, a daylit area of refuge on every floor which serves as community space in non-emergencies, a ground floor café which offers employment skills to young adults with cognitive disabilities and a sensory garden and service animal relief area for residents and visitors.
During the concept design of the Teaching and Learning Building at the University of Birmingham we engaged with disability groups, students, faculty and staff with a focus on neurodiversity, physical and sensory based-differences and mental health to establish a holistic approach towards inclusion. This engagement helped formulate a clear brief to address diverse needs beyond current standards, codes and regulations and to innovate proposed solutions. Conversations informed the selection of interior finishes, furniture and use of colour psychology within the lecture theatres and study spaces to support neurodiversity and enhance the overall learning experience. Throughout the engagement process, disability groups were appraised of progress and given the opportunity to test scenarios and share observations to inform design development.
Inclusive design benefits a greater number of people and their individual experiences, removing real and imagined barriers between communities to foster understanding and generosity of spirit. It is an ongoing process and we must continue to strive to embrace the rich diversity of humankind, to improve upon the inequities of today to realise better outcomes for tomorrow.