‘Four Walls’: A design innovation for friendlier and accessible homes
Our housing stock urgently needs renovating to make it more accessible. So Athul Dinesh from the National Institute of Design designed an app to help.
In this guest blog, Athul Dinesh from the National Institute of Design, India and winner of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) Student Design Awards 2021 for his design of ‘Four Walls’, talks about what motivated his entry and why making homes accessible is crucial for all of our futures.
Our obsession with enjoying our younger years leaves us open to ignoring an important issue. According to the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD), only 3% of the established buildings are accessible for everyone in India. This is despite the country having a significant number of people with physical disabilities, with a population of over 60s expected to increase from 8% to 20% by 2050. The young, working and relatively healthier population are not thinking about their older selves as they build their homes.
COVID-19 taught us many lessons, but the most important of them all? Although most of us had four walls keeping us safe during the pandemic, many were subjected to problems within their homes, physically, mentally and financially. ‘Home’, I came to realise, became deprived of its connotations of warmth and comfort.
A generation living in unsuitable homes
The ageing population have been living in inaccessible homes because they lack good guidance while constructing and maintaining their homes. Having listened to my neighbours and friends, who have become mindful and equally frustrated about the restrictions posed by their own homes, I came to understand that established architectural frameworks and designs are largely unsuitable for a decent living experience. Many respondents reported that their safety felt threatened while using basic spaces such as toilets, having difficulty using them without fearing they might injure themselves.
The concept of ‘Four Walls’ sprang from recognising this universal problem that urgently needs attention. It explores local and democratic methods that utilize available resources and improvising on current homes to make it cost-effective, accessible, comfortable and safe. It’s a pragmatic solution that is built on trust, personalisation and adaptability.
Designing for convenience
In England, as per an online survey conducted by the Good Home Inquiry, although 63% of the people aged above 50 believe that their homes require renovation, half of the said population expressed that they cannot afford it. The lack of accessible homes can significantly affect the wellbeing of older people, who have also undertaken do-it-yourself measures in their homes to make it easier to live in.
However, what if such undertakings could receive the approval of experts that can guarantee the safety of the home and make it remain affordable?
In my research, I spoke to over 30 people from various parts of India. I learned that the issues people faced could be solved through simple, efficient and durable steps. Four Walls, which can be easily downloaded on your smartphone, as a platform, helps users scan their homes, which further enables them to view and assess accessibility upgrades that can be made to all the corners of their home.
The platform provides on-time advice and minimal solutions to issues that are important to the user, while also showcasing existing ready-made products on the market that can easily replace their old products. Four Walls is connected to a small network of local experts and labourers who can be made available for consultation and hassle-free renovation.
The importance of designing for an ageing population
It’s crucial to design for the ageing population. With people living longer, our design practices need to include such changes. Additionally, designing for the older population also gives the creations a universal appeal as the same designs could be used by adults and children.
We can build better homes through collaboration – mutual understanding between builders and dwellers. By bringing together designers, labourers, creators, experts and people, our homes can become empathetic and befitting people from all walks of life.
The RSA Student Design Awards is a competition for emerging designers. This year’s brief (‘How might we harness age-friendly design?’) was sponsored by the Centre for Ageing Better.
The views and opinions expressed in this guest blog are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the policy or positions of the Centre for Ageing Better