From the desk of Mike Rotella, GUDC Interim Associate Director
This is the first of a series of posts on some specific Universal Design features in Destiny Arms, one of the Global Universal Design Commission’s living laboratories.
Destiny Arms in Syracuse, New York is GUDC’s latest living laboratory for Universal Design (UD). This building was selected because of the developer’s commitment to Universal Design throughout the structure, site, and each individual unit. In almost every space there are UD features – many of which may go unnoticed on a walk-through of the location. However, this just adds to Destiny Arm’s uniqueness and innovativeness. In residential applications we’re seeing that Universal Design creates living and communal spaces that balance aesthetics, access and inclusion, while also adding convenience and substantial amenity. Destiny Arms is a great example of how Universal Design achieves this.
The first UD features we’re going to examine are the halls and doorways. All of Destiny Arms’ halls and doorways are a few inches wider than standard – a subtle feature that is worth highlighting. The ADA Standards, which determines minimum access standards, calls for 32” doorways and 48” halls. Destiny Arms above-ADA compliance measurements are 36” and 60”, respectively (“Chapter 4,” n.d.). While that may only be a slight difference, the in-practice results are substantial and create added value for renters and users.
To properly analyze the effect of larger entryways and halls we need to use a few different lenses. The first is accessibility. Halls and doorways in non-ADA residential homes pose sometimes-irreconcilable difficulties for users of mobility devices and their families. When one person in a household begins using a personal wheeled mobility device (PWMD), those narrow doorways and sharp turns can make access impossible. Cramped spaces and poorly planned layouts are a major difficulty requiring costly renovation and retrofitting. In ADA minimum residential spaces, where doors are wider and halls are carefully laid out, the degree of difficulty is lessened. While some spaces may still pose difficult turns and impede movement for PWMD users, ADA minimum residential spaces at least provide some added room, which also translates to less damage to the home. This is all based on personal experience, I should add.
Destiny Arms surpasses the ADA planning and space requirements, ensuring a user of even the largest mobility device has access. Turning around, fitting through doorways, and exiting/entering, becomes easier, while access to communal spaces, bedrooms, and bathrooms becomes simpler and less awkward. Users of PWMD can move around in the building’s spaces more comfortably, which also adds a subtle bit of inclusion and social opportunity that many built environments miss out on.
I personally took a tour of Destiny Arms the other day. I use a small portable scooter (Pride Go Go Elite) that requires a good bit of jockeying around to get through my own house, as well as other locations such as offices, restaurants, etc. Moving through Destiny Arms, in comparison, was a total relief. The main entrance is extremely wide and easy to approach and the initial interior halls are equally simple to move through.
Once you get on one of the upper floors and realize the hallways are 60” wide, the place really opens up. 60” (or 5’) can accommodate two large mobility devices (substantial, wide power chairs for example) parked side by side. This means PWMD users don’t have to pull over to let a fellow tenant walk by. Both parties can remain in motion, which in its own subtle way creates better inclusion through positive social interaction. If two large mobility devices can fit, all people of every ability level can be included.
Inside the units, the planning foresight and UD adoption also shine. The 36” unit entries enable easy access - I was able to fit without hitting either of my knees on the doorframe. Kitchens and connected main living spaces provide ample turnaround despite the large, 110 year old columns that add patina to the units. Moving through the in-unit hallways and turning into any of the rooms (also equipped with 36” doorways) and back again is incredibly easy as well. The bedrooms and bathrooms also offer a huge amount of space. I was pleasantly surprised at the level of access across multiple floors and units.
From an accessibility standpoint, Destiny Arms is undeniably great for mobility device users, but Universal Design isn’t just valuable for people with lesser ability. The large spaces that allow lower ability renters to live in Destiny Arms create great convenience, amenity, and luxury for all tenants regardless of their ability status. Here’s how:
- Convenience: Wide halls, spacious unit entries, and large doorways allow easy move-ins, especially while settling in with new furniture or other large pieces. You can imagine the many other ways that large spaces also create convenience overall.
- Amenity: An increase in usefulness and overall pleasantness of spaces is achieved by the extra-large layouts as well. That’s an experiential observation you’ll be able to see for yourself when Destiny Arms’ construction finishes up later this year.
- Luxury: When you're looking for an upscale apartment, one of the obvious features people look at is the spaciousness of the apartment unit. While Destiny Arms doesn’t necessarily offer more square footage than other residential options, the layouts, due to Universal Design, feel far more grand and inviting. The best example of this in Destiny Arms is the large bathrooms, which provide each unit with an added luxurious feel.
Chapter 4: Accessible Routes. (n.d.). In ADA Standards. Retrieved from