In recent years, sustainable design and development have been a major buzzword as concerns about the climate crisis have risen in prominence. But Vaila Morrison RIBA, Inclusive Design expert at stairlift and home lift company Stannah, suggests houses must also be designed to be inclusive to be future-proof.
With concern about the climate crisis rising in prominence, sustainable design and development have been a major buzzword in recent years, growing from a niche sector in the 70s and 80s (and one of the reasons I decided to study architecture) to become a mainstream concept widely considered to be the future of the building.
Many people will immediately think of 'eco' design, of energy performance and the environmental impact that buildings make – the Passivehaus Trust revealed that 35% of global energy consumption can hold buildings accountable – but eco design is really only part of the story if something is to be truly sustainable. After all, buildings are for people, and this is where inclusive design comes in.
What good is a building that is an exemplar of energy use and efficiency if it doesn't meet our human needs? If our buildings compromise our ability to live well or prevent us from feeling safe and part of a community.And which buildings are more fundamental in this than the buildings we live in, our homes?
It's therefore crucial that houses are designed to be inclusive, to be sustainable and to be future proof.
Inclusive home design means considering how well a house will work for anyone, of any age or ability who may live there now or in the future, thinking about how access to and around the house, and rooms and spaces within the home, can be flexible throughout a lifetime – providing a true forever home.
All of us have to change needs throughout our lifetime. As babies, we begin life without independent mobility. Most of us will face periods of injury and illness, with many experiencing reduced mobility as we get older, not to mention the whole spectrum of conditions between cradle and grave that could affect our use and enjoyment of our homes if they are not designed to be accessible.
To me, it just seems irrational, wasteful, and unsustainable not to design homes to allow for these transitions as easy as possible, and indeed to make our homes accessible and welcoming to friends and family who have different access needs at different times.
Without the features that make for easy adaption, there is a real risk of people having to make do, which can impact health outcomes and lead to isolation. Not only can this have a devastating impact on individuals, but the knock-on effect can be costly to society too, resulting in elongated hospital stays due to lack of access, or having to move into a care home prematurely.
We are an ageing population, and more people are living longer with health conditions and disabilities than ever before, therefore as a society, we must pay more attention to creating inclusive and accessible homes and communities.
The most successful, and therefore most inclusive and sustainable developments, are those where people feel that they belong, feel welcome and safe.The choice is also key and areas with a good sense of community often tend to have a good balance of privacy and easy opportunities for socialising.
When homes are near or have easy access to, amenities (shops, pubs, recreation spaces, social activities, and healthcare) it will naturally enable independence.From young children gaining their first taste of freedom, being able to walk to a local shop safely, to disabled and older people being able to be independent and remain so for longer, an inclusive home and community can make all the difference.
There are many crossovers between the social aspects of sustainability and the economic and ecological ones.
Materially, the idea of building for longevity and minimising waste is an economic investment, and if homes and buildings are built with flexibility in mind from the start, they will not only ease changes throughout an individual's lifetime but will also cost less, as the need for disruptive alterations will be reduced.
The use of healthy, quality building materials can not only improve our relationship with the environment but provide direct health benefits for the inhabitants. Poor quality homes can be expensive to heat and can have poor air quality, often prone to mould and mildew. Also, things such as poor lighting and the relationship to natural day and night cycle, can lower mood or be confusing for people with conditions such as dementia.
Building sustainably is the future of housing.Eco design standards will help to create comfortable, warm, and well ventilated homes that cost less to run. If this approach is taken hand in hand with good inclusive design, we can create homes that will allow everyone to be able to live independently or to participate fully in family life as naturally as possible – what more could we ask for in a home than that?