Written by: Annette Densham, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
The concept of inclusivity has long been a guiding principle for designers and architects. More than a philosophy, it embraces the idea that creating spaces that are accessible and accommodating to people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds is not an option but rather a given.
Architects like Alexander Bitterman— the visionary architect behind Sydney-based architecture firm B. Architects — have been incorporating inclusive design into their work to make the built environment more accessible to everyone.
Alexander believes that inclusive design goes beyond mere compliance with accessibility codes and regulations. It involves a deep understanding of diverse human needs and experiences. Alexander — an architect with extensive experience in designing inclusive spaces — explains, "Inclusive design is about creating environments that don’t just prioritise comfort and usability, but that make spaces practical for all individuals, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities. It's about fostering a sense of belonging for everyone who interacts with the space."
Universal design principles
Central to inclusive design are universal design principles. These principles emphasise the creation of spaces that can be used by as many people as possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design. Alexander elaborates, "Universal design is about thinking beyond the conventional and anticipating the needs of various user groups.”
Creating spaces that can be used in a range of versatile ways is paramount, and one of the key aspects of universal design is the removal of physical barriers like steps or narrow doorways. Addressing sensory and cognitive barriers is also a key principle to mastering inclusivity. "Our goal is to make spaces user-friendly for everyone," Alexander notes. "That means considering the needs of individuals with visual or hearing impairments, as well as those with cognitive challenges. For example, incorporating tactile floor indicators and clear signage can greatly enhance familiarity with the space and improve accessibility."
Inclusivity beyond physical accessibility
Inclusivity in architecture is not just limited to physical accessibility; it also encompasses social and cultural considerations. "Creating spaces that are inclusive means acknowledging the diversity of our society," Alexander emphasises. "Architects should aim to design spaces that respect different cultural practices, languages and traditions. This goes a long way in promoting a sense of belonging for everyone who visits or resides in a building."
Alexander suggests that by engaging with the local community to understand its unique needs and aspirations you can create spaces that reflect and honour the cultural heritage of the people who use them. "Architecture should tell a story; one that resonates with the people it serves," Alexander notes. "By incorporating cultural elements and design motifs that are meaningful to the community, we create a sense of pride and ownership among its members. This not only fosters inclusivity but also contributes to a deeper sense of identity and connection with the built environment."
Technology and inclusive design
Technology is pivotal in enhancing inclusivity in architecture. "Advancements in technology have opened up new possibilities for inclusive design," says Alexander. "Augmented reality and virtual reality simulations have the potential to transport us into the shoes of individuals with varying abilities — enabling architects to fine-tune designs and anticipate their needs more accurately."
The advent of smart building systems brings the promise of adaptable spaces that cater to the unique preferences of their users. Alexander explains, "These systems allow buildings to adjust lighting, temperature, and room configurations to suit individual comfort levels. They enhance accessibility while promoting autonomy and personalisation, which are integral aspects of inclusivity."
As architects embrace the opportunities offered by technology, the horizon of inclusive design expands. This promises more dynamic, responsive, and empathetic built environments that truly accommodate the diverse needs and desires of all who use them.
The economic benefits of inclusive design
Beyond the immediate advantages of societal inclusivity there are tangible economic incentives to embrace these design principles. "Inclusive design is ethically sound and a wise investment,” Alexander says. “By creating spaces that cater to a wide array of users, architects can tap into larger markets and expand their reach.” Another benefit? “Spaces designed for inclusivity tend to stand the test of time as their adaptability and resilience translate into long-term cost savings."
Inclusive design in practice
"We design spaces where accessibility, inclusivity, and sustainability are integral to our vision,” says Alexander. “Our projects exemplify our dedication to creating uniquely functional environments that empower all individuals to acknowledge the diverse needs of our communities,” Alexander says.
“Prioritising accessibility and inclusivity by ensuring accessible entrances in all apartment buildings, offices, and retail premises is important. Universal restrooms are a standard feature in all our developments, where compliance with the building code requires it. Elevator accessibility is emphasised in office buildings, boarding houses, and apartment.
“We also recommend considering this feature for smaller developments where it might benefit ageing residents in the long run. Clear signage, tactile indicators, and auditory accommodations are integrated to enhance navigation and cater to individuals with varying needs. Outdoors, accessibility is prioritised by considering the natural levels of the terrain and designing the buildings to suit — minimising excavation and the need for stairs or ramps. Indoor spaces are designed to prioritise air quality and natural ventilation, in line with code requirements.”
Incorporating inclusivity into architectural practice is — to a degree — a regulatory requirement. But it's also an essential responsibility for architects to ensure society is benefitting from their designs. By adhering to universal design principles and embracing the diversity of our communities, architects have the power to create spaces that are truly accessible, welcoming, and inclusive for all. As Alexander aptly concludes, "Inclusive design is about making our world more humane and equitable, one building at a time."
Annette Densham, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Multi-award-winning PR specialist Annette Densham is considered the go-to for all things business storytelling, award submission writing, and assisting business leaders in establishing themselves as authorities in their field. She has shared her insights into storytelling, media, and business across Australia, UK, and the US speaking for Professional Speakers Association, Stevie Awards, Queensland Government, and many more. Three times winner of the Grand Stevie Award for Women in Business, gold Stevie International Business Award, and a finalist in Australian Small Business Champion awards, Annette audaciously challenges anyone in small business to cast aside modesty, embrace their genius and share their stories.