When it comes to the design and planning of space, user accessibility and user experience play a significant role in the ideology of the design. Conventional design is perceived as “normal” that welcomes a certain type of user group that is offhandedly deemed as a typical layout. A casual observer may interpret the space as one that requires no modification for any type of user experience. This is where Universal Design comes into focus to make the space easily accessible for all user groups. To adapt to the environment and to feel comfortable is an essential part of the consciousness of architecture.

The Disability Act of 2005 defines Universal Design as “the design and composition of any space that is accessible; comprehended and used to the greatest possible extent, most independently and naturally, within the widest possible range of situations, without the necessity to adapt, modify or use any assistive devices or specialized solutions, by a person of any age, size or having any particular physical, sensory, mental health, intellectual ability or disability.”  Universal design takes into consideration during the pre-design, design, and construction stages that there is no one-size that fits all humans. 

Universal Design Architecture Sheet1
The need for Universal Design © Archdaily

The Principles of Universal Design

Architects, Engineers, and Environmental Design Researchers developed seven principles of Universal Design to help guide professionals to create a space to be more inclusive. 

Equitable Use: The design transpires to be useful and marketable to people with diverse disabilities.

Flexibility in use: The design tends to accommodate a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

Simple and intuitive: Regardless of the user’s experience, language skills, knowledge, or concentration level, the use of design is easy to understand.

Perceptible information: Communication through design conveys necessary information effectively to the user, heedless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.

Tolerance for error: The design intends to attenuate hazards and therefore the adverse consequences of accidental or unintentional actions.

Low physical effort: The design is used efficiently and comfortably with ease and effortlessly.

Size and space for approach and use: Size and space are aptly provided for approach, reach manipulation, and use nevertheless of user’s posture, body size, or mobility.

Eight Goals of Universal Design

The Eight goals of Universal Design were recently developed to clarify the concept of universal design, health, and wellness, to incorporate human performance, outcomes from social participation, and to address contextual and cultural issues. Addressing the barrier to adopt universal design in middle and low-income countries is acknowledged by having a perception that is often discerned as idealistic, expensive, or an imposition of western values.
Hence, these goals link universal design with a knowledge base to identify measurable outcomes.

Body fit: The design accommodates a wide range of body sizes and abilities.

Comfort: Demands that can be within desirable limits of body function.

Awareness: Assuring the critical information to be easily perceived.

Understanding: The methods of operation and use are made intuitive, explicit, and unambiguous.

Wellness: Advancing in promoting health, avoiding diseases, and preventing injuries.

Social integration: Regarding all individuals with dignity and respect.

Personalization: Inculcating opportunities for choice and expressing individual preferences.

Cultural appropriateness: The design project predominantly includes social, economic, and environmental context along with respecting and reinforcing cultural values.

Even though universal design has yet to gain acceptance in the design community, the focus of implementing universal design principles in outdoor as well as indoor environments is slowly expanding.

Universal Design Architecture Sheet2
Enabling Village by WOha, Singapore © Archdaily
Universal Design Architecture Sheet3
Use of timber for the facade along with a natural environment © Archdaily

A manifestation of inner rejuvenation and community building, through master planning and adaptive reuse, the Enabling Village is an inclusive space that is an integration of work, education, retail, training, and connecting people with disabilities to society. The holistically integrated environment of the Nest navigates you through new linkages tracing the pedestrian flow throughout the space. The timber terrace laid over the courtyard stepping down as an amphitheater is integrated with ramps for people having disabilities that blend in with the seating area. Wayfinding is developed with a series of points of contact at strategic junctions that helps the user with orientation and navigation. With a barrier-free design and sustainable design solutions, the Enabling Village is a beacon of encouragement towards social interaction within a biophilic environment.

Universal Design Architecture Sheet4
110-meters ramp that runs along the periphery of the hall © www.aart.dk
Universal Design Architecture Sheet5
Multi-purpose hall at Musholm © Archdaily

The Musholm extension envisions new experiences by including a traditional approach to accessible design and enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities. To replenish the differences, a range of physical activities guides the handicapped to extend their boundaries. The multi-purpose hall has been integrated with accessibility and creative elements that inspire and challenge them. The 110-meter ramp running through the circular building distinguishes the path around the central spaces.

Universal Design Architecture Sheet6
Tongva Park and Ken Genser Square in Santa Monica © ASLA
Universal Design Architecture Sheet7
Environmental sculpture at Tongva Park and Ken Genser Square © ASLA

The Tongva Park and Ken Genser Square in Santa Monica were designed as a public space to be inclusive of all people. To navigate through the built environment and apply the principles of universal design that includes people with a wide array of disabilities such as physical, auditory, or visual disabilities, even neuro-cognitive disabilities is a challenge that we should face with creative certainty. The design of this urban landscape project embodies an experience that is active, resource-conscious, innovative, and natural. The urban space is precisely defined by wide fluid pathways, native landscape, seating areas with arms, play areas, lush green lawns that promote health and well-being.

Universal Design Architecture Sheet8
A blend of steps and ramp at Robson square in Vancouver © Pinterest

Universal design plays a significant role in solving social situations and design responses based on usability and social participation. The integration of universal design has been growing and advancing every day and professionals are building a strong relationship with universal design to contribute to improving accessibility. In this stage of evolution of universal design, it is essential not to limit our designs to a certain group of users and make the space inclusive to all be it sustainability, workplaces, public places, or indoor spaces.

Universal design will potentially reduce the effort and accommodate people with short-term and chronic disabilities.


  1. Archdaily [Online]

Available at: www.archdaily.com

  1. Whole Building Design Guide: WBDG [Online]

Available at: https://www.wbdg.org/design-objectives/accessible/beyond-accessibility-universal-design

  1. American Society of Landscape Architects: ASLA [Online]

Available at: https://www.asla.org/universaldesign.aspx


Abha Haval is an Architect who has a vivid imagination of this world. She believes that every place has a story to tell and is on a mission to photograph the undiscovered whereabouts of various cities and narrate the story of its existence.

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