Housing Layout & Design – Plots & Internal Spaces

Designers, developers and housebuilders often seek to create dwellings with a certain stereotypical inhabitant in mind, but this should be avoided. The designs of dwellings should be equally appealing to all users.

Inclusive Design

Designers, developers and housebuilders often seek to create dwellings with a certain stereotypical inhabitant in mind, but this should be avoided. The designs of dwellings should be equally appealing to all users.

For example, a dwelling traditionally marketed as a ‘family’ house may be occupied by a single person or a couple working from home, who may need space to accommodate family-members for whom they provide care. Similarly, such a house may be occupied by an active older person or persons who undertakes hobbies at home and may need space to accommodate visiting relatives.

Dwellings should be fit for use by people of all ages and a range of physical and mental abilities. They should also be futureproofed – designed to allow both flexibility of use and adaptation to future standards, circumstances and technologies. This is emphatically not a new concept – the original Parker Morris Space Standards (1961) sought to encourage flexibility and adaptability in housing design. In brief: many of the core principles of inclusive design can and should be applied to all dwellings.

It is important to note that what benefits a specific group can also benefit other groups. Designing such benefits (and the features that give them) into dwellings from the outset can help to ensure that all parts of the population are catered for. Inclusive design features can support people with a range of needs including visual, hearing, mobility, cognitive and learning.

For example, designing dwellings to incorporate high levels of natural light and ventilation, often with dual-aspect windows, can offer the following benefits:

All parts of the internal dwelling being visible:

  • limits confusion and anxiety for people with dementia;
  • helps the partially sighted or blind to navigate around the dwelling; and
  • reduces fuel bills for people of all age groups and abilities, due to lower use of artificial light and increased passive heating from sunlight.

Views to the ‘outside world’:

  • enhance natural surveillance, allowing families to view children playing outside and helping older people to feel safer thanks to the perception that the public realm is being ‘watched’; and
  • reduce social isolation, as older or less mobile people can still view activities taking place outside, either in the wider public realm or private space, and feel connected to life in the community. 

Another example is the provision of appropriate sound separation. People with dementia can find it difficult to sleep and often move around their dwelling at night; this may also be the case for some of the ageing population. The provision of appropriate acoustic absorbency and the considered location of specific facilities or rooms can limit the impact on surrounding residences and their inhabitants. In addition, enhanced sound separation can also provide benefits for families with children, shift workers or those who work from home.

The provision of open-plan internal layouts offering flexibility in the placement of internal walls and doors is helpful to people with dementia, as it allows them to be able to see from one room to another, and rely on familiar visual prompts. Such internal layouts are also practical for wheelchair users and people with impaired mobility, as well as for families with children, who may benefit from open-plan shared space when children are young but who may want to adapt the space at a later time as their circumstances change. An example can be taken from Page 19 of DWELL’s findings document ‘Designing for Downsizers’.


Page updated: 28/11/2021


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