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February 20, 2014
One of architecture’s greatest functions is to increase the mobility and comfort of the people who use it. Here, learn how universal and multigenerational design can help those with special needs thrive.
The term “universal design” is attributed to the architect Ronald Mace, and although its scope has always been broader, its focus has tended to be on the built environment. Those using the term often define it as design “for the whole population,” with the notion being that a design should work for disabled and non-disabled people alike. 
Originally appeared in An Introduction to Universal Design
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We’ve all seen Braille labels ineptly screwed to walls as an afterthought, with no sensitivity to the overall environment. The irony is that this in itself undermines universal design. Anything so clunky that it is off-putting to anyone who has an alternative by default becomes a special-needs product—and a stigmatizing one at that. If the aspiration is truly universal design, Braille would become part of everyone’s experience, not just that of the people who read it. What if the decorative texture of Braille were designed with sighted people in mind as well, even if it remained illegible and abstract to them? Click to see our entire 101 series on Universal Design

Originally appeared in Visible Touch
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Modern metal facade home

A retired couple wanted a home that would easily adapt to meet their changing needs while helping future generations meet theirs. After purchasing a tear-down house next to their adult daughter's home and family in 2010, the Goodchilds connected with a pair of architects who shared their sensibility. The resulting Burke-Gilman Bike Trail house, named for the Seattle recreational footpath, which it overlooks, is the playful embodiment of sustainability. From the adaptable office space upstairs to the back entry that has been designed for conversion into a wheelchair path, the house is as changeable as it is comfortable. See more of the house’s aging-in-place elements here. Photo by Dale Christopher Lang PhD AIAP

Originally appeared in Angular Multi-Generational Home in Washington
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Family gathered in kitchen

Brothers Soheil and Nima Nakhshab are principals of an eponymous San Diego–based design-build firm that they founded in 2003. When they built their house, where three generations of their family resides, they had to accommodate the various needs of the household. “Making a house accessible costs the same; you just need to think of it before you pour the concrete,” Nima says. Learn how they accommodated all three generations in our slideshow. Photo by Ye Rin Mok.

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Originally appeared in The First LEED Gold-Certified Family Home in San Diego
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Showcasing his mastery of light, Monti designed these Cor-ten curtains to modulate the light that enters the home, creating a dappled effect all throughout the house. “Light is such a great resource in California and architects tend to lose that when they

Modal Design principal Daniel Monti was tasked to create a low-maintenance, multi-generational home for his parents, his family, his brother’s children and their many pets. When choosing material and furniture, Monti’s guiding principle always centered on his family. On the first floor, Monti designed an open plan that flows from living to kitchen to outdoors in one linear motion. Concrete (i.e. easy to clean up) floors, dark-colored furniture and large open spaces negate any need for delicate care, instantly putting everyone at ease. Photo by Benny Chan.

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Originally appeared in The Giving Tree
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Henry Point Lake Cabin in Northern Idaho

A cozy lake cabin in Northern Idaho was renovated to accomodate a couple and their sons' growing families. By adding a 830-square-foot loft addition, they were able to accomodate the additional family members while keeping an open first floor layout that was still accessible to everyone. 

Originally appeared in Changing the Point
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The main living area, which includes a more formal sitting area near the entrance, the dining area, Braitmayer’s workspace and the kitchen, in which the couple’s daughter works at the island. In the foreground is a pair of mid-century chairs; at left is a

Karen Braitmeyer of Studio Pacifica, an architecture firm specializing in universal access, renovated her home not only to accomodate her needs (she is a wheelchair user) but her daughter's (also a wheelchair user but with a different disability). She and architect Carol Sundstrom had to make necessary deicisions on the house, such as eliminating the orignal fireplace to create a family room and better utilize the home's 2,000 square feet. The kitchen was completely reworked to cater to any user and now has four different counter heights, a side-opening oven, smart cabinets, and extra room in front of the sink.

“It’s interesting—most people put every wheelchair user in the same category, and figure you should just build to ADA specifications,” says Sundstrom. “But when Karen and I work with wheelchair users, we don’t just open the guidelines for universal design and follow the instructions—we measure arm length and reach, and we consider with our clients how long we should anticipate muscle strength, and what must continue to adapt architecturally. In this case, Karen and her daughter have different requirements, and we also needed to think of David’s needs.” Photo by Kathryn Barnard.

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Originally appeared in Highly Accessible
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101 universal design computer with petals
The term “universal design” is attributed to the architect Ronald Mace, and although its scope has always been broader, its focus has tended to be on the built environment. Those using the term often define it as design “for the whole population,” with the notion being that a design should work for disabled and non-disabled people alike. 

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