Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"Absolutes Are A Nice Foundation But They Are Impractical To Achieve"

In life, it's great to have certain rules and truisms that we can rely on. In fact, it's necessary. Take gravity for instance. Not knowing if something was going to rise or fall - or stay put - when we let go of it would be difficult to deal with each time. We know what is going to happen. 

While not obeying the speed limit doesn't necessarily have the same immediacy and consequences as the law of gravity, we know that if we exceed the speed limit - particularly by a lot - we run the risk of being caught or causing an accident.

Wouldn't it be great then to have a set of absolutes that we could use in our designs, sales processes, marketing, and other aspects of our business? Hold on. Not really. We have what we call best practices that is a strategic way of approaching something and a method that generally works in similar situations, but let's be careful about having all of work done for us before we show up.

Take aging in place solutions.

There are various design guidelines and references that we like to follow, but anything other than a required building code is elective. We might like to include it on all projects, include it whenever we can, or use it on a case-by-case basis as need dictates it, but we generally do not have to include something because it is a requirement. We have the freedom of design.

The chief reason that absolutes from a design perspective do not work is that they cannot be applied universally. Take a toilet that often is referred to as a "comfort height" or ADA-height toilet. This is one some 19" above the floor to the seat. While it's true that many older people have difficulty sitting bending, or squatting and that a raised toilet is beneficial for them, it's also true that short people find this height uncomfortable or dysfunctional. Besides there are other ways to raise a toilet seat to accommodate those who require it (such as seat extenders) without changing the fixture itself.

Similarly, prescribing a uniform height for countertops, outlets, light switches, and other installations in the home may not work for all individuals. What if some of them need to be lower? Is this allowed under a prescriptive approach where things need to be uniform? This is one of the issues with trying mandate how things are to be done and attempting to standardize installations.

Even going with a 36" minimum size doorway or hallway may not be what is needed in a home. Either one may need to be much wider than that, and there are easy ways of accomplishing this. Again, this speaks to the dysfunction of having a standardized or absolute approach to sizes and materials.


Let's keep in mind that there are certain objectives that we are attempting to achieve with our designs - function, access, safety, comfort, convenience - and we often can use our favorite application or solution to achieve these in various homes, but is not the same as using a standardized, mandated, or absolute approach where each project is approached or remedied in exactly the same way.

We need the flexibility and creativity to give the client what is best for them and their home.

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Steve HoffackerCAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist-Instructor and best-selling author of universal design books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555.