The brainchild of industrial design professor James J. Pirkl and occupational therapist Anna L. Babic, “transgenerational design” elevates basic “accessibility” into well-designed homes and appliances that serve a wide range of users with grace and style.
At first glance, the bathroom vanity designed by James J. Pirkl doesn’t draw particular attention to itself as anything other a beautiful custom built-in, but on further inspection, several features reveal an exceptionally thoughtful approach to its construction. Tucked into a corner, the vanity makes maximum use of space, freeing up plenty of room for those who might be walker- or wheelchair-bound to navigate the room.
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An alcove located directly beneath the sink means that it can be easily accessed from a seated position, and the solid-surface countertop’s “finger-grip lip” makes rolling a wheelchair closer quick and intuitive. The sink’s faucet is controlled by a single, lever-style handle, and the drawers and cabinets that flank the sink alcove feature large “D”-shaped pulls and handles for easy gripping.
The vanity described above is an example of “transgenerational design,” an approach developed in the 1980s by Pirkl, an industrial design professor at Syracuse University, and his partner, gerontologist Anna L. Babic.
One of many teams whose work was federally funded on the heels of the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, Pirkl and Babic’s philosophy is that everyday products and environments should be tailored to the broadest possible spectrum of users. They believe that by focusing on those at the ends of the spectrum (the young, the old, the disabled and the sick or injured), those in the middle are better served as well.
Like universal design,transgenerational design is intended to be sympathetic and enabling rather than hostile and disabling, but Pirkl describes transgenerational design as going a step further than providing mere “accessibility.” It’s a holistic approach that focuses on the way humans actually use things, rather than on making code-compliant “adaptations.” It emphasizes beautiful, “soul-satisfying” elements and actively avoids the sterile and clinical.
As stated by Transgenerational.org, the goals of transgenerational design are safety, comfort, ease of use, ideal ergonomics, user satisfaction and suitability for a wide range of users. Home design that conforms to these guidelines provides seniors with the ability to remain as independent as possible for as long as possible, while enabling them to be fully integrated into “normal” household life.
Level entries, main-floor master suites, and wide halls and doorways are just the beginning of the features that can make a house livable for many generations. Here are some clever concepts that exemplify transgenerational design:
What would you add to the list? What makes your current home easy or difficult to live in? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.