Destiny Arms: A Universal Design Tour

February 6, 2017

From the desk of Mike Rotella, GUDC Interim Associate Director

Photos by Michaela Quigley

In November, I led a tour of progress at the Destiny Arms apartment complex in Syracuse, New York. The Destiny Arms project involves the renovation of a 110-year-old industrial building, not far from Destiny USA. Destiny Arms acts as one of GUDC’s “living laboratories” for the ongoing study of Universal Design. It is part of the GUDC’s work fostering a more universally accessible and usable world. It is also the basis for a pilot study we’re conducting at the GUDC. To reference previous feature on Destiny Arms, click here.

SU graduate-level landscape architecture class tours destiny arms

The Destiny Arms tour was provided to a graduate-level landscape architecture class at Syracuse University. The course professor reached out to us via the GUDC “contact” page and, just like that, an in-class lecture on UD transformed into a live tour of Destiny Arms. Lectures are great, but there is no substitute for hands-on, real-world examples to help illustrate the complexities and principles of Universal Design in practice. Although this class audience held a landscape architecture perspective, the UD concepts it learned were highly useful and applicable to this discipline and others. The building accommodations, living strategies, and particular UD related goals implemented in Destiny Arms serve as a great living laboratory for study.

Close up of students looking at destiny arms shower enclosure
Here’s an excerpt from my outline to give an idea of Destiny Arms’ access features:

1. Entryway - UD intro, parking system, entry system, how it demonstrates UD
(All users can easily enter the same way - wheelchair, groceries, woman with stroller, etc.)
2. Path to model unit - hall width (amenity, can fit two large PWMD, positive social interaction)
3. Model Unit - ample space, wide doors, kitchen counters, pulls, bathroom. (UD is not apparent, balances aesthetics with function and inclusion, luxury and access. Large bathroom amenity, etc.)
4. Incubation space - work from building included space, phone, Internet, etc.
(Remove barriers to entrepreneurship. Empower nontraditional careers, no commuting, easy access for disabled, etc.)
5. Roof access - accessible one way for all. (Positive social interaction and inclusion, an opportunity to include all in community)
6. Flagship model unit - control of one’s environment, customization, blinds, smart home tech,
(UD has room for customization for specific needs, ability is on a spectrum, we want to empower all)

SU students examining the open space concetp of Destiny Arms apartment

The detailed tour demonstrated specific strategies and accommodations, and illustrated the principles of Universal Design. I used each of the UD features to explain some of the Seven Principles of Universal Design (Ronald Mace/Center for Universal Design at NC State University).

 View of interior apartment - large windows

On the tour, we break down the elements of Universal Design, explaining not only the final product, but also the strategies and ideas behind the building design. Our GUDC studies of UD in practice are ongoing, to understand how these strategies play out in real life for people of different ability levels and from different backgrounds.

GUDC, as an organization examining the effectiveness of Universal Design, is engaged in the UD learning process. Not only do tours allow us to highlight the benefits of UD, but also they foster individual and group inquiry to enhance and inform the evolving study and learning process that surround Universal Design.

Desting Arms Hallway


Principles of Universal Design. (1997). Retrieved from