Universal Design and the Built Environment

Cognitive Technologies and Educational Discourse for
People-Centered Spatial Thinking & Architecture Design

MAY 2014


``Universal Design and the Built Environment'' is an inquiry and research intensive at the upcoming edra45neworleans conference to be held during May 28-31 2014, New Orleans, USA.

The research intensive will present an overarching view of recent community initiatives, and other scientific deliverables (e.g., systems, case-studies, experiments) focusing on aspects of architectural cognition, cognitive design computing, and evidence-based analyses with respect to processes of assistive design tools and frameworks, and their impact on real-world Professional Design Practice, and Design Learning and Education. The underlying theme is that of universal access and usability, individual well-being, and "structure, function & behaviour" for the design of the built environment.








Universal Design

Universal Design for architecture refers to the characteristic of the built environment to be "usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life". Concepts of universal design range from basic considerations of barrier or hindrance free design, to those pertaining to social, psychological, physiological, and aesthetic dimensions involved in the multi-faceted relationship between humans and the built environment.

Architectural Cognition

Architects concerned with designing a building are confronted with imagining and anticipating the visuo-spatial and navigational experience of building users during the initial (design) conception phase. Architects, and therefore architectural design assistance systems, must envision the shape of empty space that achieves required economic, social, functional and aesthetic preferences. Knowledge generated from evidence-based methods from environmental and social psychology can also find its way into educational discourse and computational tools for design creation & analysis.

Built Environment

The complex interrelations between fundamental design elements, patterns, and constructs occurring within systems of spatial organizationand physical structure as they accrue in the design of the built environment are the subject of study in professional architectural education. However, cognitive modalities of human perception, attention, action, dynamics, environmental affordance and user experience, and design conception and semantics have not conventionally been a core aspect of architectural training and practice.




How can the future evolution of (architectural) design computing bring notions of design semantics, structure, function, and people-centred design to the fore at an ontological, representational and computational level?


What is the role of specialized forms of visuo-spatial abstraction, and commonsense spatial reasoning, within the broader realm of design computing, spatial design assistance, and tools for design learning and education?


What is the nature and form of the analytical feedback that designers and planners expect during the early design conception and iterative refinement phase?



Architecture Design Cognition

Contemporary architecture design tools regard eventual design products as isolated "frozen moments of perfection". Even within state-of-the-art design tools, aspects such as commonsense, semantics, structure, function, behavior, people-centered design concepts that are implicitly known to designers are yet to come to the fore. In our ongoing research activities in the field of spatial cognition for architecture design, we are developing the cognitively driven foundational spatial informatics for user-centered architecture design systems. The talk will demonstrate a human-centered model of abstraction, modeling, and computing for function-driven architecture design (assistance) systems. The aim is to identify how interdisciplinary application of knowledge may provide real benefit for the theory and professional practice of architecture design, and eventually, tangible benefit for the quality of everyday personal life and work.

Patient-Centred Design for the Largest Public Hospital Construction Project in the Unites States

The Parkland Hospital Replacement Project located on 64 acres in Dallas, Texas. It is currently the largest healthcare construction project in the United States. The nearly 2 million-square-foot Parkland hospital will replace the existing 55-year-old facility, and, when complete, will be the largest public hospital building in the nation built in one phase. The entire hospital is conceived with the patient in mind; the patient-centered approach creates a robust healing environment with the use of single patient rooms, natural light and windows as well as more space for family and visitors. This talk will present the Parkland Hospital Replacement Project to the audience, its fundamental design premises and objectives, the design process, and the impact that it is expected to have on the lives of the citizens of Dallas County.

Informed Decision Making For The Parkland Hospital Replacement Project

In early 2009, Parkland Health & Hospital System selected HDR+Corgan for the design and master plan of the new 862-bed Parkland Hospital, and design work began in the second quarter 2009. The project broke ground in late 2010 and is estimated for completion in 2014. The design of the 2.1 million-square-foot hospital showcases many of the best practices supported by evidence-based design. Interventions including single patient rooms, access to nature, and zoned circulation have been implemented in the new hospital. Lori has been part of the project since 2009 and continues to participate in EBD research associated with the project. Her presentation will include discussion of the evidence-based design elements of the New Parkland Hospital, anticipated outcomes and the inside story behind incorporating these features into the hospital.

Development of Visual Wayfinding Solutions for Complex Environments

Design and implementation of graphic wayfinding systems in large complex environments are often developed through observational surveys, anecdotal evidence from user groups, best practices for design, and past experiences from similar project types. Current models for improved patient-centered healing environments in healthcare design demand more empirical evidence-based knowledge of successful design solutions through the use of new tools and processes for data collection and qualitative analysis. The discussion will touch on practical adoption of these new technologies for professional practice.

Large-Scale Experiments of User Experience in Built-Up Public Spaces

Since its initial formulation as a theory (Benedikt 1979), isovist analysis has been employed by many researchers from all over the world as a method to characterize the visual experience of people in the environment. Werner & Franz (2007), for example, have shown that qualitative assessments of rooms are related with isovist properties, whereas Kalff et al (2011) have shown that navigational strategies are to great extent, shaped by isovist characteristics. With the aim to further expand these ideas, this talk seeks to study new approaches linking the relation between human spatial behavior and visual properties.

Deriving Formal Knowledge from Evidence-Based User Behavior Data

People-centered evidence-based analysis of the interaction between people and the built-environment has been a crucial concern for many focus groups and endeavors within the scope of the research areas covered by the Environmental Design Research Association. Cross-domain studies led by environmental psychologists on user experience and behavior are abound. However, general-purpose open-source tools and standards for user behavior and experience data collection, sharing, qualitative analysis and communication of analytical results and their use within technical design systems are missing in the community. We report on the ongoing development of prototypical systems specifically for conducting large-scale people experiments for understanding user wayfinding behavior in the built environment. We especially focus on the manner in which analytical knowledge may be translated to formal specifications that can be applied within other kinds of design simulation systems.


EDRA45: Building with Change will focus on new research methods and design strategies for the human habitation of our dynamic environment. Without sacrificing the principles of safety, comfort, justice, cognition, and choice, how can design lead to innovative ways of accepting, absorbing, and reacting to change? Does change present us with design opportunities? Can building with change, in fact, provide opportunity for even greater environmental, social, and economic health and stability? Conference themes will engage diverse approaches to building with change, from resisting dynamic environmental forces to accepting and accommodating them. Sessions will address a range of research and design methods including cognition and developing awareness of change, anticipatory planning for possible future scenarios, and design inquiry about dwelling in a dynamic landscape.


The Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) is an international, interdisciplinary organization founded in 1968 by design professionals, social scientists, students, educators, and facility managers. The purpose of EDRA is the advancement and dissemination of environmental design research, thereby improving understanding of the interrelationships between people, their built and natural surroundings, and helping to create environments responsive to human needs. EDRA celebrates more than 40 years of research-based innovations for all built and natural environments. EDRA's roots are strong and flourishing. Our organization's vibrant network of visionaries have anticipated movements in research and design decades before they have hit the mainstream. EDRA's lineage of members have pioneered environment and behavior studies, evidence-based design, facility evaluation methods, sustainability, active living community planning, universal design, diversity in design, workplace design and informatics, and digital technologies.


If you would like more information, or would like to get involved, send us a message


All rights reserved. DesignSpace