Universal Floor Design

By Posted in - Black Pine Resources on January 18th, 2022
What is Universal Design?

‘Universal Design’ is a term coined by architect Ronald L. Mace. A wheelchair user from a young age due to Polio, he was acutely aware of the accessibility challenges posed by most buildings.

As an architect he spent much of his professional life championing design and legislation that allowed everyone access to housing, products, and our built environment.

Universal Design acknowledges that “ability” is a dynamic concept; with our range of abilities changing over time, either by nature or by circumstance.

Let’s start at the bottom…

Of course, Universal Design encompasses all aspects of the built environment’s design, but you could argue that it all starts on the ground:

  • “Stepless” entryways for easy access
  • Wide hallways, doorways, and entryways to account for extra space and adequate turning radii needed by wheelchairs and walkers
  • Walk-in, “curbless” showers
  • Ramps with gentle inclines and level landings
  • Stairs with uniform, wide steps, low gradients and highly visible edges

And what about the materials?

Amongst the attributes of a great flooring material, the following spring to mind:

  • Impact-resistant
  • hard-wearing
  • non-slip
  • smooth
  • stable
  • firm
  • incorporating texture and colour changes

 House of simple stay, Skupaj Arhitekti + mKutin arhitektura
Lotus House, MW archstudio

But can it be functional AND beautiful?

Yes! Just because its functional, doesn’t mean it can’t be social-media friendly, providing a plethora of instagramable moments!

Katy Schamberger on Charles & Hudson.com, identifies three popular choices:

Versatile and relatively inexpensive, tile is a top choice for universal design flooring because it comes in a variety of slip-resistant styles, making it a great choice for areas such as the kitchen and bathrooms. Tile is conducive to high mobility and is a budget-friendly option if you’re looking to change your flooring, especially if you’re needing to floor a large area in your home.

Like tile, hardwood floors enhance mobility and, if sealed properly, can handle wear and tear and are easy to keep clean. Hardwood floors add a sophisticated look to any room, and their increasing popularity means hardwood is now available in a range of styles and colors that not only fit any decor scheme, but can also work with any budget.

This eco-friendly material offers high mobility but is also slightly softer than tile or hardwoods, making it an ideal choice if you’re worried about someone falling on a hard surface. It also retains more heat than the aforementioned materials and would be great in a living room or kitchen. Maintain cork much like you would a hardwood floor to keep it in good condition.

Other materials available here in New Zealand include:

Made from natural materials, in a huge range of pattens and colours, you can’t go past the smell of this linseed oil, pine resin and sawdust combination

Softer than tile but very robust, comes in a range of colours and textures


Did you say ‘Texture’?

Although ‘smoothness’ is generally a winning attribute of Universal Design suitable flooring, sometimes texture is just as important.

Floor texture is particularly important for visually impaired people and can be incorporated in creative ways to allow for accentuated wayfinding.

The touch-sensitive textures feed back through the feet and stick to help identify routes in public places.

Tactile Flooring
Tactile Indicators

Universal for everyone

There is a myriad of specific design considerations to consider for total Universal Design, flooring selection is just the beginning.

By listening for the most instinctive movements of the human body our designs can result in a built environment being aesthetic and usable by everyone, regardless of our age, ability, or status in life.


Skilled Nursing Facility, Guedes Cruz Architects
The Paleisbrug, Benthem Crouwel Architects
Classroom makeover for the blind, Creative Crews
Lotus House, MW archstudio

For Universal Design support in New Zealand, contact:


For more information about tactile floor products in New Zealand, see:


Let Black Pine Architects assist you with incorporating universal design into your next project.

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