Our society comprises different types of people. All of these people are unique and have different stories, capabilities, and identities. It is important to safeguard each person’s identity and provide for their freedom and comfort within society. Since architecture forms a key component in developing the identity of a region, it should be used as a tool to support inclusivity. It can act as a first step toward practising togetherness within the public to maintain this equality in society as a whole. 

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Scale of Inclusivity

Inclusivity can be implanted in architecture at various levels. 

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  • The Urban Plan: This form of design is implemented on a large scale and affects the basic working of the society, dictating the values it spreads. It includes the development of urban spaces with walkable pathways, functional arrangement of activities, special provisions for the physically challenged, etc. 
  • Architectural level: Individual structures must be designed as ‘Design Inclusive Buildings’ that work towards acceptance instead of alienation. This can be accomplished through the zoning, planning and design of basic building elements to cater to the needs of all possible user groups.
  • Detailing: To ensure complete usability, proper attention to detailing within the architectural design, through elements, embellishments, services, and facilities, must be done. The development of the design through material choice, colour scheme, lighting, etc., all contribute towards a greater sense of equity.
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The design of the streets of Vienna follow inclusivity at an Urban, Architectural and Detailed level, in terms of equitable design_ ©Daniel Hawelka

The city of Vienna is an excellent example of the development of the urban landscape to satisfy the needs of a diverse group of people. The city has made several provisions for the use, safety and comfort of women, low-income families, the elderly and the handicapable. It has made several strides in the facilities provided and provisions made in individual neighbourhood designs for all its occupants, a lively space and an established community.

Environmental Behavioral Studies can be used as a framework for achieving inclusivity in architecture. The subject deals with the interplay between an individual and his surroundings and explains the dynamic interrelation between the design of spaces and the mood, productivity, and behaviour of the user. Using human psychology and a complete study of the possible user groups and their comfort-based requirements, one can easily design an inclusive structure, while achieving functionality and aesthetics.

User demographics

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Use of materials, directive techniques, furnishings, and layout for the visually impaired_©Luis Gordoa

So, what group of people should we cater our designs to? More or less, everyone! Designing for the atypical demographic should be a top priority, especially in today’s society, with its daily struggle to ensure equality amongst the masses. Many of these groups have been ignored and forced to compromise on their comfort in earlier times, so we must provide all general and some specific facilities in the architectural design for these people of all walks of life. 

These minority groups include:

The physically, mentally, and psychosocially disabled require extra provisions in architectural design due to reduced motor, sensory, cognitive, or coping skills. Various additional building elements (ramps, wall/ floor guiding mechanisms, etc.), building embellishments (coloured directional techniques, proper signage, etc.), and enhanced building layouts (straight forward circulation paths, simple zoning of spaces, etc.) can benefit the user. It is also important to study the psychological aspects of enhancing the design to cater to people’s moods and behaviours.

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Glasgow’s Hazelwood School, Alan Dunlop Architect Limited, uses a sensory wall to guide visually impaired students_ ©Alan Dunlop Architect Limited

The elderly and children form a major portion of common user groups with special requirements due to their low mental and physical strength. Dimensions, furnishings, and services must be provided to ensure all age groups’ safety and easy use of the building.

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Home for the Elderly, by BCQ Arquitectes, uses a warm set of materials and colors and a simple plan layout to foster a sense of hominess for the elderly residents_ ©BCQ Arquitectes

Gender equality in the design of public spaces especially, is needed to ensure the well-being of all genders. This may include proper lighting (to increase the feeling of safety for women, appropriate washroom provisions, and arrangement of equitable facilities and services, irrespective of a person’s gender identification.

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Aspern Seestadt is designed with a family-oriented base, keeoing women’s needs as a core design point_ ©Daniel Hawelka
  • Various social groups

These include people from different ethnicities, religions, sexualities, and beliefs. The design of spaces should be such that it does not offend or alienate any community, or violate any of their beliefs, in its use, regardless of the social status of a person. 

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While advocating for the design of a completely inclusive building, one can follow the various principles of Universal Design. A set of principles has been drafted as a baseline in several design-related fields for complete user accessibility. They work to ensure the design of environments and products that are usable, safe and healthy, in response to the increasingly diverse population. 

These are Equitable use, Flexible use, Simple and Intuitive use, Provision of perceptible information, Tolerance for human error, Low physical effort, and Appropriate size for human use and approach. These principles remove certain limitations of design and work for the betterment of the various user groups.

Now and Forever

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While design should advocate for the betterment and comfort of all types of people in today’s world, it begs to ask the question of working for the betterment of the people of tomorrow as well. Working for the comfort of future generations should be a constant denominator for all architectural projects, due to the unique property of the longevity of architecture. 

Sustainability is a central focal point in designing for the future, as it attains total functionality while using climate-responsive, cost-efficient, and energy-saving techniques to reduce the overall carbon footprint and fatal effects of the design.

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Vancouver Convention Center is a sustainable design by LMN Architects that incorporates use of climate responsive techniques, supports various biosphere systems and reduced energy requirments_ ©LMN Architects

Since architecture is a clear barometer of progression in society, it must prepare for all types of users and occupants. A person should not be isolated by architectural design but instead, accept it. Understanding that comfort and wellness of every user demographic are necessary for the success of a design while ensuring social integration and cultural appropriateness while maintaining personalization. We must spread awareness to accommodate any group of people and the importance of doing so. 

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As philosopher Michael Novak said:

“Unity in diversity is the highest possible attainment of a civilization, a testimony to the most noble possibilities of the human race. This attainment is made possible through passionate concern for choice, in an atmosphere of social trust.”

As architects, we must design for this final state of Unity through Diversity.

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References

Author

Joshua Fernandes is an architecture student and an avid cinephile who always looks at the whimsical side of things. Hawaiian pizza, pop culture references, and writing are his true passions. He loves discovering new music and movies, being outdoors and believes that the beauty of the world lies in the smallest details hidden within.

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