Although today’s buildings last 100+ years, many of them can’t effectively be used by a large portion of our population. And so the time has come to expand our definition of sustainable design!

The Greenbuild 2013 session, “The New Sustain-Ability: Design for All Abilities,” will provide an overview and definition of the concept of Universal Design — and how it can be applied in today’s built environment. 

Session speakers John Gordon, architect/principal at john gordon I architect; Karen Braitmayer, principal at Karen Braitmayer, FAIA; and Erick Mikiten, principal at Mikiten Architecture; and Greenbuild Program Working Group Member (who selected this as her favorite session to attend at Greenbuild), Pepper Smith, director of residential services at Davis Energy Group, offer a preview of this session. 

What’s the topical focus of your session?

Karen Braitmayer: Design for all abilities is the core of social sustainability, the 3rd leg of the stool in sustainability. Regardless of the current or planned use of a building, designing the most accessible and usable building possible makes everyone feel welcome, prevents barriers to access and reduces waste by remodeling to accommodate user needs.

Erick Mikiten: The expansion of the idea of sustainable design to include universal design (UD). UD is the design of buildings, environments, and tools so that they are usable by as many people as possible, regardless of their levels of physical ability.

Why is the topic of this session important?

John Gordon: The time has come to broaden sustainable design to include universal design. In so doing, our built environment will become more resilient and adaptable over time, ultimately extending the life of buildings.

Karen Braitmayer: All humans have changes in ability over the lifespan. We need lots of assistance as our mobility changes in your younger years, we hit a peak in strength and agility in our 20's and 30's and then our ability wane naturally, over time. If we live long enough (and we all hope we do!), we all will need supportive environments for lower strength, vision, hearing and cognition. If all buildings are supportive to these needs, everyone would be able to be active in their community for many more years to come.

Erick Mikiten: There is a social aspect to green building, but it has historically been focused on the social benefits of caring for our environment. It's time to expand that to consider broader social benefits.

Pepper Smith: This topic hasn't been talked about a lot recently. It's almost like it fell by the wayside or gotten lost in the many definitions of universal design. This topic is important to start the dialogue on truly defining universal design and developing ways to meet it through building places as opposed to buildings

Why should Greenbuild attendees attend this session?

John Gordon: So they can be on the leading edge of advancing the inclusive qualities and values of universal design.

Karen Braitmayer: We have a powerhouse set of presenters — all who are architects and all who have personal understanding of disability and ability. Marked by a great sense of humor and a short timeline (don't all architects work best under pressure?) we'll open your eyes and recalibrate your thinking to see the world from new perspective (waist height, tee hee).

Erick Mikiten: Our session has three leading experts who work with sustainable and universal design every day. We have unique insights that will inform and inspire you to advocate for broader sustainability; not just by-the-numbers green design.

Pepper Smith: Our population is constantly changing. We do have more children born with a variety of disabilities and we have the biggest group ever heading into retirement. We need to keep this changing population in our minds at all times when we're designing our buildings to determine how we can meet all the needs of our population.

What’s the most interesting non-green building related fact about yourself?

John Gordon: Featured in a recent This Old House episode. You can watch it here.

Karen Braitmayer: I have an overwhelming desire to be making things — this week I am knitting socks.

Erick Mikiten: I'm a woodworker and guitar player, and I photograph all of our finished buildings myself with a crazy setup of lights, reflectors, and other photo equipment.

Pepper Smith: I've volunteered and coached for Special Olympics for the past 15 years.

Interested in learning more? You can follow our session speakers on twitter: @johngordonarch, @kbrtmyr, and @ErickMikiten!