The Universal Design living lab, Hasselt in Belgium

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The cooker

The grab rails

The grab rails

The tiled floor

The tiled floor

In March 2015, Rob Imrie visited the Faculty of Architecture and Arts, Hasselt University, to talk with Hubert Froyen and Jasmien Herssens about universal design in the Belgium context. The trip included a visit to the Universal Design living lab based in a property in the centre of Hasselt. The building was converted between 2008 and 2013, and it was reconstructed to the highest standards of accessibility to facilitate ease of entry to, and usage of, its facilities. For Herssens, the building is illustrating what is possible in relation to the crafting of inclusive spaces, and the deployment of different artefacts to enable people to live in comfort. Such artefacts range from the stepped tiled floorway in the entrance hall, that has a lift mechanism to level out the steps to create level entry, while, simultaneously, preserving the historic feel of the original design.

The bathroom features grab rails with a difference, designed with an artistic flourish, and enabling people of different heights, with different reaches, to find a place to hold onto.The kitchen provides wall units that will move up and down by use of smart controls, while the hot plates on the cookers are designed in such a wa that people do not need to reach across them – they are designed in such a way that a person sitting in a chair can have ease of access. The building is popular in Hasselt and beyond and attracts many visitors curious about how it may be possible to live well in situ, and to discuss the possibilities of converting older housing stock to what appears to be ‘state of the art’ in relation to living well.

For further details, see the paper by Jasmien Herssens,Mieke Nijsb and Hubert Froyen, Inclusive Housing (Lab) for All: a home for research, demonstration and information on Universal Design, available at http://ud2014.se/wp-content/uploads/submissions/ud2014_submission_80.pdf