Creating Accessible Spaces for Now and Later
Designing for the future is important in any industry and when it comes to interior architecture and design it is essential to create spaces that not only cater to the present-day needs but also anticipate future requirements.
Accessibility in design refers to creating spaces that are easy for everyone to use regardless of their physical abilities. With an aging population and an increased focus on inclusivity and diversity, designers need to consider accessibility as more than just an afterthought. This is especially true when it comes to creating accessible interior spaces in residential, commercial, and hospitality environments.
Why is designing accessibly important and what does it mean?
Designing a space built for all users is important because it enables people to live safely, comfortably, and independently.
In residential interiors designing for the future can involve incorporating features that facilitate aging in place and accommodate people with disabilities. This can include features such as wider doorways, no-step entryways, and grab bars in bathrooms. It can also involve incorporating smart home technology to make controlling the environment easier for those with mobility or cognitive impairments.
Designing accessibly is beneficial for new multifamily buildings as well, including apartments and condominiums. Current building codes mandate features such as elevators, common area access, and open plan units; which can make a positive impact on renters and buyers who frequently struggle with finding autonomous and affordable housing options. Multifamily buildings that incorporate such design features also have higher resale values and appeal to a wider range of potential tenants.
In commercial interiors accessibility plays a vital role in creating a welcoming environment for all customers. The focus should be on creating spaces that are comfortable and easy to use for all customers including those with disabilities. This includes features such as accessible entrances restrooms and seating areas. It also involves ensuring that signage is easy to read and that lighting is adequate for all users. In addition incorporating technology such as touch-free door openers and voice-activated controls can enhance the accessibility of commercial spaces.
Hospitality interiors also require careful consideration when it comes to accessibility. It is essential to ensure that guests with disabilities have equal access to all areas of the building including guest rooms dining areas and recreational spaces. Features such as wheelchair-accessible rooms, roll-in showers, and lowered countertops can make a significant difference for guests with mobility impairments. By designing with accessibility in mind hotels and resorts can create a welcoming environment that caters to guests of all abilities.
Here is a cheat-sheet for you to discuss with your Interior Designer:
Wide doorways and hallways to accommodate mobility devices
Lower countertops and light switches to make them accessible for those who use wheelchairs or have mobility issues
Lever handles instead of knobs on doors and cabinets as they are easier to operate
Non-slip flooring to reduce the chances of falls
Good lighting throughout the space ensuring that there is enough natural light and artificial light
Accessible entrance with a ramp or lift wide doors and automatic door openers
A clear path of travel throughout the space with well-marked maneuvering space
Assistive listening systems or devices such as hearing loops or captioning options
Braille and tactile signage to provide information
Adequate space in restrooms including grab bars and sinks at a lower height
Accessible entrance with a ramp or lift and automatic door openers
Guest rooms designed specifically for people with disabilities which have amenities such as roll-in showers, grab bars and adjustable height features
Clear path of travel throughout all public spaces with ample maneuvering space
Menu and room service options that cater to dietary and mobility restrictions
Braille and tactile signage to provide information
Future-proofing your space
How can we design spaces geared towards the future user?
"Adaptable" is often heard in congruence with "future-proofing"; a concept coined by Guy Harris, director of AccessiblePRS. Guy suggests a multitude of ways design firms can achieve adaptable spaces such as:
Reinforcing bedroom and bathroom ceilings before plaster is applied to make way for a possible need for hoists in the future.
Adding blocking in ones bathroom that could easily be used in the future for adhering grab bars to a wall,
Ensuring electrical is wired up to doors in case they may need to be remote controlled in the future.
Real-world examples and case studies
The Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, California, USA:
One of the first buildings of its kind in the USA, The Ed Roberts Campus, by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, it is a mixed-use development that includes commercial offices, community spaces, and accessible apartments. The building was designed by integrating advanced universal design and sustainability strategies, making it fully accessible to all people regardless of ability.
Hotel Brooklyn, Manchester, UK:
Hotel Brooklyn, by Motionspot Design, a firm dedicated to stylish accessible designs, draws inspiration from its namesake with an industrial aesthetic of exposed brickwork and polished concrete. A variety of seamlessly incorporated accessible features such as concealed ceiling track hoists in bedrooms, removable fold-up shower seats and support rails in washrooms, and a lowered reception desk, blur the lines between luxury and utility whilst providing adaptability to each guests needs.
Fun Fact: The hotel has reported an increase in review from it's accessible facilities of £217,000 (over CAD 360,000) in 2022.
The Final Score
Ultimately the goal of designing for the future and creating accessible interior environments by considering the needs of all users, anticipating future requirements, and embracing sustainable design practices will guarantee functional, welcoming and environmentally responsible spaces.
The key to success lies in considering accessibility as a primary criteria from the beginning of the design process and leveraging the latest technologies and design innovations to create a built environment that serves everyone. With the right approach designers can create interior spaces that are truly designed for the future.