HEWI MAG / Design

Universal Design in architecture – a journey through time

In the world of modern architecture, where form meets function, HEWI has left a distinctive mark. This article takes you through the history of Universal Design in modern architecture in which HEWI has played a key role with its innovative approach.

Universal Design in architecture has been evolving considerably over time. In the past, the focus was mainly on aesthetics and the needs of the general public. But today we are increasingly recognizing the importance of design that is accessible to all – not only to most of society but also to differently-abled individuals.

Two stacked brochures labelled Design Comfort Care

The development of Universal Design in architecture

The roots of Universal Design can be traced back to the 19th century, when social reform movements emphasized the idea of accessibility requirements for the general public. In the early 20th century, architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright laid the foundations for design that was geared towards the needs of all users by introducing concepts such as open floor plans and natural lighting. These were highly valued for their user-friendliness.

The mid-20th century was characterized by a growing awareness of the needs of differently-abled individuals. This led to the introduction of standards and guidelines that laid the foundation for Universal Design in the 1960s. Architects and designers such as Ron Mace began to create environments that were accessible not only to differently-abled individuals but rather to all people

One of the most important developments in this area was the introduction of ramps and elevators to enable those with limited mobility to access buildings. However, in addition to physical accessibility, visual accessibility played an increasingly important role. High-contrast colors and highly visible signage have been introduced in order to assist those with visual impairments.

The most important principles of Universal Design in architecture

Universal Design in architecture is based on certain principles that ensure that buildings and spaces are accessible to all. These include:

1. Equal access:
It is essential that everyone has equal access to products and services – regardless of individual limitations. This principle ensures that no one is excluded on the basis of specific needs.

2. Adaptability:
A product or service should be versatile enough to be used by different people with minimal or no customization. This flexibility makes it possible to use the product or service individually and according to your own needs.

3. Intuitive operation:
Products must be easy to understand and intuitive to use without complex instructions. Elements such as clear labeling, clear menu structures, and unambiguous visual cues contribute to easy handling.

4. Clear perceptibility:
Information should be presented clearly and unambiguously so that it can be properly absorbed and understood by users. In addition to visual contrasts, this includes customization options such as text size changes or volume control so that different perceptual needs can be met.

5. Error tolerance:
A product or service should be tolerant of operating errors. Instead of simply denying access in the event of an error (e.g., entering an incorrect password), assistance and alternative solutions should be offered.

6. Efficiency:
Users should be provided with effective means to accomplish tasks without being overwhelmed by an overabundance of options or choices. The aim is to achieve a balance between functionality and user-friendliness.

7. Future-proofing:
A product should be designed in such a way that it remains usable even in the course of technological changes and changing trends. For example, established keyboard shortcuts could be transferred to new software versions in order to ensure continuity.

8. Aesthetic design:
The design should promote a pleasant experience and not distract from it. This can be ensured by choosing light background colors instead of dark tones and opting for a well thought-through minimalist design.

With the help of these principles, universal or accessible design in architecture ensures that differently-abled individuals can lead a self-determined life. It creates equal opportunities and access to education, work, and public spaces. Also older people and parents with baby carriages can benefit from accessible design. This is the only way to create an inclusive society in which everyone is welcome and feels accepted. It breaks down barriers and prejudices and promotes understanding and cooperation between people with and without disabilities.

WC cubicle in a public building

Modern trends in accessible architecture

Modern accessible architecture goes beyond ramps and elevators. Nowadays, there are innovative solutions that enable differently-abled individuals to move freely around buildings and use all functions. For example, there are intelligent technologies that enable people with visual impairments to find their way around a room. In addition, there are now countless solutions for accessible bathrooms and kitchens that meet the latest design trends.

Another trend is the integration of nature and green spaces into buildings. They create an accessible, healthy, aesthetically pleasing, and inclusive environment that is beneficial to a wide range of people – regardless of their abilities or limitations.

Universal design from HEWI: Design icons with history

HEWI specializes in Universal Design. With a long history and many years of experience, HEWI is a leader in the development of products that support differently-abled individuals. The products range from door handles and handrails to an aesthetic sanitary world – including design icons that have shaped the interiors of entire generations:

A design icon as a model for product development

In 1969, Rudolf Wilke, owner of HEWI, and the German architect Winfried Scholl created a true design icon with the S 111 door handle. The round pipe design inspired the entire product family and led to the development of the 477/801 sanitary range. This range, which has stood for “Made in Germany” quality for over 50 years, has taken HEWI to the forefront of accessible sanitary fittings.


In its latest innovation, HEWI has reinterpreted the 477/801 range. The revised products are characterized by rounded edges and colored frame elements based on a modern style inspired by clear geometries. That’s because modern architecture has always offered room for innovation, especially in the area of color design. In 2022, Christiane Küper, Head of Brand + Sales at HEWI, revolutionized the cult range 477/801 with new color concepts. Inspired by the Memphis group, which is known for their bold colors and unconventional shapes, the range became a tribute to this classic style.

HEWI understands that colors are far more than just decorative elements. They influence human emotions and perceptions. By integrating color tones ranging from calming to stimulating, HEWI brings an additional element of Universal Design to its products.

Are you interested in more universal designs from HEWI? Discover accessible solutions for the following areas here:

  • Toilets
  • Washbasins 
  • Showers 

Challenges in the development of accessible design

The implementation of accessible design in architecture can pose a number of challenges. One of the biggest challenges is meeting the various needs of differently abled people. Each requires specific adaptations and solutions.

Promoting inclusion through Universal Design

Architecture has the potential to promote inclusion and create an inclusive society. Through the use of Universal Design, spaces in which all people feel welcome and accepted can be created .

In addition, buildings and public spaces can be designed in such a way that they facilitate the integration of differently-abled individuals. For example, workplaces and educational facilities can be designed to be accessible in order to enable participation in working life and educational activities.

The future of Universal Design in architecture

Universal Design in architecture has evolved over time and will continue to play an important role. It is particularly important for the creation of an inclusive society in which all people have the same opportunities and possibilities.

Overall, accessible design in architecture is an important step towards an inclusive society. It enables people with disabilities to lead a self-determined life and creates equal opportunities for all. By integrating accessible design into architecture, we can create a world where everyone is welcome and can reach their full potential.

Our journey through modern architecture with HEWI shows how one company can influence the evolution of architecture through innovation in design and color. HEWI proves that design and functionality can go hand in hand to create timeless and emotional spaces. For more insights, visit HEWI Mag and discover how HEWI is continuing to shape the world of design and architecture.


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