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Monday, October 19, 2009

Is Universal Design Green?

It was 5 years ago that John Salmen and I sat down to breakfast at The Biltmore at Coral Gables and discussed the future of Great Grabz, universal design and our aging population. We are in 2009, and the future is now. Here is a wonderful article written by one of the country's most innovative thinkers in the practical application of Universal Design in hospitality, commercial and residential projects. John Salmen is the founder of Universal Designers & Consultants at and produces an online newsletter that should be on your reading list.

Universal Design Newsletter, Vol. 9, No. 8 (Oct. 2009)

Is UD Green?

By John P.S. Salmen, AIA

Inevitably, this question must be raised. As public awareness of green design swells to a tidal wave, many Students of UD think we see the next wave approaching – and its name is Universal Design.

But how do these waves relate to each other? Are they random swells? Or caused by undersea movement of the earth’s crust?

Valerie Fletcher, Executive Director of the Institute for Human Centered Design, and Elaine Ostroff, Founding Director along with Eric Mikiten, AIA of the Bay Area COTE, believe that they are both connected to the earth shaking movement of Sustainability. Eric presented his overview in detail at the AIA 2009 convention.

The trefoil logo, developed by the Department of Public Works of Queensland, Australia for its Smart House program. (, communicated how these three universal design leaders visualize the “ three–legged stool of sustainable design.” The graphic above illustrates how universal design is a basic element of sustainable design, as it relates to resource efficiency and economic empowerment under the umbrella of environmental, economic and social sustainability.

Environmental sustainability relates to the green movement and natural resource conservation and efficiency. Economic sustainability relates to concepts of life cycle costing, equity and fair trade value of products and services.

Social sustainability relates to systems that support people by creating safe, secure and independent communities.

When compared to financial and natural resources, human ability is arguably the most precious resource of all. Human ability is enabled, supported and encouraged by a universally designed environment that gives everyone the opportunity to participate with a minimum of outside support. Just as we must conserve our natural resources, we must also conserve our human resources. It is a waste of human potential to create environments that demand dependence when a simple change in the design of the path, space or element could allow un-assisted use. Like “green design” universal design must be an integral part of design programming and the imaginative design process. It cannot be left as an add-on in a minimal compliance mode.

The relationship between two people who are locked in the care giver/receiver dance, while frequently a loving and enriching experience, is difficult, uncomfortable, and too often destructive of human dignity. Independence is best and can be extended with universal design. The obvious example is aging in place, which is facilitated by universally designed homes and communities.

As we struggle to make the most of limited resources, the value of universal design as a tool to conserve human resources will become increasingly apparent, and its relationship to the broader goal of sustainability will become clear.

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1 comment:

  1. Great posting / great article. Rarely do I see the three sustainability's presented together (sounds like the Three Graces - it is). Also great acknowledgment that we are not just talking about natural resources but also human. I read a study that measured what size population the planet was designed to sustain, the answer was a mere 1/2 billion people. If we humans are to have much of a future, consciousness needs to shift to sustainability and then go one step more, we must embrace our role as caretakers. Our planet has been very generous, it is time that we return the favor.

    Konrad Kaletsch, CAPS