Statement on Universal Design & GUDC Aims

October 4, 2016

From the desk of Mike Rotella, GUDC Interim Associate Director

At the Global Universal Design Commission (GUDC) we talk a lot about Universal Design, but for many the term can be confusing. In general, UD refers to a design practice aimed at creating something everyone can use equally. It applies to web design, education and much more, but in this case, we’re talking about built environments. This means planning ahead to create a space that all people, regardless of ability, can access AND fully participate in. It’s building spaces with everyone in mind and accounting for customizations for specific needs. What works for the least able can create convenience for the most able – while also being aesthetically pleasing and providing equal benefit for all.

In the past, the discussion has centered on the division between the “able-bodied” and people with disabilities. UD acknowledges that in reality, ability is on a spectrum. Our abilities change throughout our lives. We understand that age, injury, overall health, and general life changes result in shifts up and down in ability. Universal Design unifies all of these ability levels and creates spaces that work for all instead of just society’s “ideal” category. You end up with smarter, streamlined solutions that foster full access for everyone.

Many architects, builders, and developers are choosing Universal Design because when it’s done right, the benefits are readily seen. Creating environments for all is simply the right thing to do and also results in increased marketability, value, and usability as well as lower costs in the long term. Universal Design removes the need for retrofitting; instead, it creates solutions that just work for the maximum amount of end users from day one. It’s no surprise that UD often costs less in built environments. UD buildings and products even facilitate use by more potential renters, buyers, and more.

The Global Universal Design Commission has been focused on Universal Design as applied to commercial use spaces. Our greatest success thus far is our partnership with the YMCA in the fully UD certified Mary Free Bed YMCA in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This building and its programming prove many of the points I’ve sketched out for you above. Creating high level UD and meeting GUDC’s commercial standards has resulted in true inclusion, soaring membership, and evolving return on investment as this one-of-a-kind fitness center runs and expands. We’ll have a detailed study on this particular project in the near future.

At this point, the GUDC is interested in continuing commercial certifications while building relationships that will help further study and grow UD concepts. Innovative developers and architects create new UD projects, which act as “living laboratories” for study and learning. Each project teaches us how Universal Design is best executed. They help develop specific strategies for creating equal access and usability.

Our work with Granite Development and Mark Congel on Destiny Arms in Syracuse, New York is an excellent example. We’ve been assisting in reaching a variety of access goals (automated entry for all, touch-free home automation, etc.) but Destiny Arms will more importantly serve as a great case study for UD in residential applications. Utilizing this upscale apartment building as a living laboratory will provide a real world example of residential Universal Design.

Residential UD often only applies to private homes built to appropriate specs, but in order to expand this field of study, a major development is necessary. Destiny Arms has 62 units and the building employs Universal Design in all of its spaces. Through our work with Granite Development, we’ll be able to test the many aspects of UD, learn how it plays out in an upscale residential context, see what kind of community it attracts, and get a concrete example of the business case for UD. As Destiny Arms gets nearer to completion we’ll have in depth details on the process, progress, and opening.