Difference - The Secret Sauce in Universal Design

NPR's Robert Siegel provides an insight into Universal Design with an interview that makes explicit what often goes unspoken. Universal Design is about difference. 

Good design solutions accommodate difference by, how obvious, being different - even subtly different within "identical spaces."

In other words, mature application of UD is about choice. It is about meaningful choice for the broadest range of users under the broadest range conditions. It is the opposite end of the spectrum from grudging minimal compliance with "accessibility" laws.

For another view on how the ADA has influenced American architecture, we called on Monica Ponce de Leon. She's dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan, and she's a proponent of something called universal design, which challenges the notion of able versus disabled.

Instead, Ponce de Leon says universal design encourages architects to think about a wide range of people.

Professor MONICA PONCE DE LEON (Dean, College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan): What is powerful about this is that it acknowledges different stages in life so that we can acknowledge kids, middle age and then later in life, as well as people that have different kinds of disabilities.

SIEGEL: So what's an example of that sort of design?

Prof. PONCE DE LEON: So I have a private practice, and we designed a library for Rhode Island School of Design about now six years ago. And in the project, we designed with universal design principles.

So for example, when we designed the cubicles for the library, no two cubicles are actually the same. We used software that allows you to design for variation as a way of creating a whole range of cubicles that had different sizes, differing height tables, different height seating, different widths, so that we could accommodate many different body types in a very subtle way.

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