PLANNING AHEAD WITH UNIVERSAL DESIGN (audio)
December 16, 2011 – TOTO is the world’s largest plumbing products manufacturer, employing more than 1,500 engineers to create comprehensive lines of plumbing products and fixtures. Gunnar Baldwin, LEED AP, joined TOTO USA as a water efficiency specialist, but has since emerged as a specialist in universal design, design for aging and health design.
In 2010, Baldwin invited a delegation of American architects, including Clark Manus, FAIA, 2011 President, to visit the more than one million square foot TOTO research facility in Japan. Visiting the research facility afforded those attending the opportunity to see firsthand how TOTO is translating the conversations surrounding health and design into architectural expressions beginning in the bathroom and for a broad audience. Reports Baldwin, “We’ve emphasized in our mission that we’d like to get rid of these labels and subsets and so on, and just consider [health related] things part of good design by all architects. That is the mode of things, of design, in Japan.”
In the accompanying audio, Baldwin discusses how architects can better deliver friendly, healthier, and more accessible projects through universal design research and practice. Explore how these outcomes those which emerged during the 7th World Congress on Design and Health below.
EVIDENCE-BASED DESIGN: RESEARCH
At AIA’s 2011 Convention in May, attendees were able to see TOTO’s design research in action first hand when Baldwin encouraged architects to suit-up in TOTO’s age simulation suit. The suit uses various mechanical restraints to simulate the loss of strength, reduced grip, joint stiffness, narrowed vision, and reduced coordination common among an aging population.
Volunteer architects were encouraged to approach a traditional bathroom with no universal design features, and then another universally designed setup to actually experience the impact design decisions have for a rapidly aging population.
“I think the trip to Japan and demonstration were extremely persuasive,” says Baldwin. “The 16 that attended the trip to Japan were extremely vocal about their being persuaded that this is very important to them. They have gone on to talk about it and write about it a great deal.”
The need for research is important. Despite the well-documented rates of obesity, chronic illness and aging among the American population, research that speaks specifically to American body types and customs is incomplete. Baldwin’s demonstration at Convention underscores an important lesson: this type of research is quite feasible, even for an individual firm to undertake.
What would the relationship between universal design and an individual’s health look like if accessibility went beyond physical requirements to address a person’s sense of independence, well-being or quality of life?
In public projects in may mean access and signage. In the intimate environment of the home—the key location where people tend to be challenged and give up independence—this may mean adaptable programs, providing for future devices, toilets that are high enough for people to easily get on and off, grab bars, or more elaborate technologies like the TOTO seat which bathes and dries users without assistance. In both cases, users will experience a higher quality of life and greater health and happiness; healthcare providers may, in turn, see the benefit in lower service and operation costs.
“The bottom line is, if we design homes and buildings so that people can get around and have access to the things that they need to do, without having to pay nurses, pay doctors, get assisted care, we’re eliminating a lot of these costs,” says Baldwin. “ We’re allowing for a happier lifestyle, and more interaction, and probably a longer life.”
The key to realizing health objectives in design is to understand issues accurately. Practicing and sharing research programs will provide architects the tools to gauge success, but their job begins in ascertaining not only the immediate requirements of the user, but also the evolving needs. “It’s not enough just to ask what they want, or what features of the building or house they want, but what features you might need if you’re capabilities change,” advises Baldwin, whose son is Seattle-area architect specializing in design for aging. “I don’t think it’s a hard argument to make at all.”
In an accompanying podcast, Gunnar Baldwin, LEED AP, discusses how architects can better deliver friendly, healthier, and more accessible projects through universal design research and practice. The podcast is available here. Additional resources and articles can be found at www.aia.org/cvd/