Inclusive Architecture and Urban Design

My main area of expertise is designing office environments that meet the needs of the occupying organisation. At the conferences I attended last year, one of the recurring themes was around designing for individuals, or specific groups or types of individuals. The speakers referred to personal factors such as age, personality and parental status. There was some discussion around whether we should design for the individual or the organisation, but the general consensus was that we should design for a majority (perhaps the average ± 1sd) as we can’t design for everyone. However, to achieve this we must offer choice, of a range of spatial and environmental settings, rather than a one-size-fits-all solution based on the assumed (or sometimes dictated) average. I believe these principles apply to architecture and urban design as well as interiors. 

Clearly, it is impractical to design an urban environment specifically tailored to each individual, but we can design for a number of groups or typologies of people. We also need to consider the full range of types, and also check to see whether the visiting population is skewed towards one end of that range. This skewness is often considered in building specification standards for specialist environments, such that the design is based on the relevant anthropometric data for the target occupant e.g. children in schools, but this is not the usually case in the urban environment. Some individual factors to be aware of are noted below.


I have been campaigning for workplaces that cater for individual differences for some time, in particular for variations in personality types. Historic research, along with my own conducted on behalf of Herman Miller (Oseland, 2012) and Ecophon (Oseland & Hodsman, 2015), shows differences in preferred meeting space and acceptable sound levels for different personality profiles. For example, the more introverted and more neurotic personality types cope less well with noisy, buzzy, busy stimulating environments than their counterparts; as this can lead to stress, absenteeism and reduced performance. When creating public places, consider providing calmer areas for solitude and contemplation, or quieter walkways set aside from the busy streets. Even extroverts need time alone for chilling and for introspection. Providing greener spaces, biophilic design, will help create a more tranquil environment, and can help us reenergise and improve creativity and problem solving.


Research on noise has shown that older people have more difficulty hearting in spaces with more background noise because the older we are the more difficult it is to hear the speech frequencies above other sounds. External environments could incorporate foliage to help disperse and absorb noise. Semi-partitioning, screening and staggered entrances etc can all help reduce background noise. Excessive background noise in restaurants is increasingly being recognised an unwanted noise rather than a welcomed buzz. In their study of demographics in the workplace, Myerson, Bicard & Erlich (2010) pointed out how the physiology of older workers differs to that of younger ones. However, there is growing evidence that people are suffering from eyesight, hearing and posture problems at an earlier age (e.g. Milind et al, 2013). Myerson and colleagues recommend that we design future workplaces for all generations, and clearly this is even more relevant for the urban environment. 

Life stage

Probably more important than designing for age per se is designing for different life stages. Aecom (2014) suggested that Generation Z have similarities with Baby Boomers and refer to them as the Ages of Freedom, including discovery, education, entertainment and exploration. In contrast, they suggest that Generation Y and Generation X are the Ages of Responsibility, including children, mortgages and a fixed-base. Creating workplaces for those with dependents will help retain experienced, trained and talented employees; and considering their needs will also attract them to public spaces. Those with children may prefer workplaces near creche facilities, with easy access by public transport, or near parks where they can meet their offspring at lunchtime.  Singles and couples without dependents are more likely to want a more social spaces than those with dependents – places for interaction, cafes, bar, gyms and recreational facilities appeal to this group.


Most of us are familiar with the term “DDA compliance”, but this is a hangover from the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which was superseded by the broader Equalities Act 2010. Design requirements, in particular access to buildings, for the mobility, visually and hearing impaired are covered in Part M of the Building Regulations 2010. However, there has been a gradual move towards universal design, introduced in the 1960s, nowadays referred to as inclusive design. Inclusive design is defined as “The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible” regardless of their age, ability, or status in life (BSI, 2005). It is indented as the default position, integral and fundamental to architecture, rather than viewed as bolt-on solutions required to convert designs to ones suitable for minority groups of people. The seven key principles of universal design, developed by Ron Mace and colleagues (1997), are impressive aspirational and laudable design guidelines. For example, provide the same means of use for all users, avoid segregating or stigmatising any users, and make the design appealing to all users.

Processing differences

Steve Maslin (2009) is an evangelist for inclusive design, but Steve focusses on designing for those with learning, processing or communicating differences. This includes, those with congenital conditions such as Asperger’s, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and cerebral palsy etc. It also includes those with acquired conditions such a mental health issues, dementia, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, stroke etc. Those with these conditions can find certain designs over-stimulating, confusing and stressful. Lighting, signage, glass, colour and art etc require additional consideration for this group of people. Unclear signage and poor, unintuitive, way-finding are a particular challenge for this group.

We are a long way off a truly inclusive society with universal design, but we need to consider how architecture and urban design, particularly public spaces, meet the needs of the full spectrum of all types of people. Let’s embrace our unique differences, starting by recognising them and designing our places to accommodate them.


AECOM (2014) The Next Generation Occupier. Cited in Harris R, Katsikakis D & Oseland N A (2015) Future Workstyles and Future Workplaces in the City of London. London: City of London Corporation and The City Property Association.

BSI (2005) Standard BS 7000-6:2005: Design Management Systems - Managing Inclusive Design. London: British Standards Institute

Mace R et al (1997) The Principles of Universal Design, Version 2.0. Raleigh, NC: The Center for Universal Design. Extracted from: https://projects.ncsu.edu/design/cud/pubs_p/docs/poster.pdf

Maslin S (2006) Inclusive design. Construction Week Online, 28 December. Extracted from: http://www.constructionweekonline.com/article-7264-inclusive-design/

Milind P, Jyoti M & Sushila K (2013) Life style related health hazards. International Research Journal of Pharmacy, 4(11).

Myerson J, Bichard J & Erlich A (2010) New Demographics New Workspace: Office Design for the Changing Workforce. Farnham: Gower Publishing. 

Oseland N A & Hodsman P (2015) Planning for Psychoacoustics: A Psychological Approach to Resolving Office Noise Distraction. Workplace Unlimited. Available at: http://workplaceunlimited.com/Ecophon%20Psychoacoustics%20v4.5.pdf

Oseland N A (2012) The Psychology of Collaboration Space. Workplace Unlimited. Available at: http://workplaceunlimited.com/The%20Psychology%20of%20Collaboration%20v1.4.pdf

Oseland, N. (2019). Inclusive Architecture and Urban Design. Journal of Science Informed Design. ISSN 2633-0687. ISSN 2633-0687. DOI: 10.33797/SIDe.19.0001