Universal Design Seminar at UMB Ås.

SPINN Arkitekter partner Leif Houck arranged a seminar on Universal Design (UD) at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB) where he is also an associated professor. SPINN's Daniel P. Barth was also there to learn from the wide variety of lecturers and to make this short blog report.

Inger Marie Lid PhD (Associate Professor @ Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences) had a rather interesting take on categorising the different aspects of UD. She went about it with an Aristotelian differentiation, looking at it by a divide in Episteme («knowledge»/theoretical knowledge), Techne («craftmanship»/technical skills) and Phronesis («practical wisdom»/practical knowledge). This categorising of UD pointed out some of the shortcomings in todays legislation which tend to lean heavily on the Techne aspect and lack a measure of "common sense".

The research Inger Marie Hølmebakk is conducting looks into the processes practicing architects have for UD in their projects. In general architects seem little interested to talk about their practice/relation to UD. (The fact that a several norwegian architects were invited to the seminar as speakers to talk about their projects and that they all (!) declined supports this.) There seems to be a generous portion of skepticism towards the current legislation. 

Per Ravn, of CUBO Arkitekter MAA from Århus in Denmark, presented Handicaporganisationernes hus (The Handicap Organizations’ Building) , both process and building. The building has UD woven into the very core of the project, and even though one can argue it has the ideal client for getting UD into the design, it still serves as a good reference and source of inspiration. He sums the building up pretty well himself: "to treat everybody equally, one sometimes need to treat everybody differently".

Lars Aasness from Norsk Standard and gave us an introduction to how International (ISO), European (EN) and Norwegian (NS) standards were made, and how they differed from legislation in that they are made by private organizations. The normal hierarchy would be to have function-based laws, more specific regulations and at the most specific level - use standards or parts of them as contractual instruments to set the operative requirement. In the current Technical Building Regulations the last level of specification is skipped and regulations go directly to millimeter requirements (some of these taken directly from the norwegian standards).

In other words a good mix of theory, practice and policy. We at SPINN Arkitekter are engaged in understanding and creating Universally Designed spaces in our work and on a theoretical level. Congratulations to Leif for a successful seminar.