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Moving Towards the Universally Designed Home: Part 2

Universal Design of Dwellings Required in the 2010 Version of The National Building Regulations

After the turn of the century, the building authorities’ patience had come to an end, and in the 2010 amendments for a completely universally designed lay-out of all new dwellings was put forward, requiring accessibility to every room, including the bathroom.

A debate immediately arose on the necessity of the new requirements. The focus was primarily on the areas needed to turn a wheelchair. The entrepreneurs and developers of housing argued that if a turning diameter of 1.5 meters (59 inches) were used this would increase building costs and hit hard students and young people looking for their first small dwelling. The extra costs were claimed to be as high as NOK 500,000 (USD $79,000)

They pointed out that the building regulations in neighboring Sweden, with the same basic preconditions, required a turning diameter of 1.3 m (51 inches) and suggested that this area should be sufficient in other countries too.

The need for facts on these matters sparked some interesting research and analyses. Researchers from the research institute SINTEF Byggforsk carried out a study of the extra costs of a universally designed apartment using a turning diameter of 1.5 meters.[1] They found that there were some extra costs, but much smaller than the ones presented by the developers. They concluded that the extra costs varied some depending on the lay-out of the various apartments analyzed, but never exceeded NOK 40,000 (USD $6,400). By way of comparison, the typical building cost for an appartment of 55 m2 (66 yd2) in 2009 was NOK 1,700,000 (USD $270 000).

The size of the area of movement for the use of wheelchairs where challenged by the developers and entrepreneurs. There was widespread uncertainty about which areas were optimal, considering both the need for movement and building costs, and, as it turned out, a lack of solid data to decide on the matter. Consequently, the newly established Norwegian Universal Design Research Laboratory was commissioned by the Norwegian Building Authority to conduct the necessary research.

After testing the use of all categories of wheelchairs on the marked, the laboratory concluded that an area of 1.3 meters x 1.3 meters was too small to turn a standard manual or electrical wheelchair, and consequently a turning diameter of 1.3 meters would be too small too. [2]

After years of debate and partially diverging information, the authorities had to decide on the final wording of the building regulations, balancing building costs, equality for persons with disabilities and a growing senior population with a need of practical and accessible housing.

The result was a compromise and the original ambition of a building policy based on a general and consistent universal design quality was only partially realized.

[1] Christophersen, Jon and Karine Denizou. Ikke så dyrt likevel. Konsekvenser av TEK 10 for arealbruk in smaaboliger. SINTEF Byggforsk, Oslo  November 2010/ Not so expensive anyway. Consequences of Technical Building Regulations of 2010 on the use of area in small dwellings. Sintef Byggforsk. Oslo. November 2010.

[2] Nersveen, Jonny og Hans Petter Olsen. Bruk av rullestol og rullator ved stigningsforhold utendørs, åpning og lukking av dør i bolig, plassbehov for å kunne snu en rullestol innendørs i bolig. Norsk forskningslaboratorium for universell utforming, Gjoevik 2014.


Mr. Jonny Nersveen, associate professor and research responsible for Norwegian Universal Design Research Laboratory at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Gjoevik. Photo: Anders Gimmestad Gule.

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