What is Slow Design, and Can It Be Applied to Buildings?

construction-slow-designDesign is part of every human being. It is reflected in the presentation of attire; foods consumed and even the choice of décor. While degree of gifting in standard design is evident, everyone is involved in design in the basic meaning of the word. In simple definition, design is the conscious harmony of items that often brings pleasure. The approach of slow design in architecture is aimed at encouraging holistic way of life. In definition, Slow Design is a method that takes attention from the object and focuses on the designer’s goal and well-being.

Holistic Living

The basic aim of this design model is to encourage people to focus on what’s good for the planet and consequently, its people. In the recent past, holistic living has gained some popularity. This is perhaps because the damage being done on the planet is finally showing. There is need for choosing healthier lifestyles. This means going beyond doing what is permissible and instead aiming for the beneficial. It is important to consider actions before going ahead.

Slow design in building projects aims to augment the people and the planet while also considering the impact on the same. Instead of merely acting because it is possible, this aims at doing what is necessary for the enhancement of earth. Beyond this, there is the consideration of the impact of the building project to the source of materials used in the design. Also, questions of the long-term impacts once the project is complete are raised and answered. In other words, slow design seeks to have an all round win for the people, the environment and the building. As long as harm is eliminated and wellness preserved, it is considered a success.

Synergy of the Universe

The principle upon which this model works is simple. The world is a big and beautiful interconnected network of different systems. This means that an action in one system can have a positive or negative effect on another. The planet is diverse in every way. If one thing is lost then something else will be affected and so on causing a wave effect. The aim of slow design is to preserve this diverse and even enhance it. This can be done by synergy. Synergy is where two or more system working independently joins and works together. At the end the combined result is greater than the sum of parts. Most of other designs leech on other systems such as the natural environment destroying it as in parasitism while other though not harmful, add no value.

building-designConventional Vs. Slow

The differences between conventional and slow design is obvious because of the approaches taken. First, the former focuses on the object of design while the latter draws focus towards the designer and the benefits that can be derived for all concerned. Second, the slow design at enhancing the interdisciplinary aspect while conventional is single minded in pursuit of the object’s design. Third, the aspect of holistic living is considered central in slow design while its counterpart does not consider it key. In addition, slow design is simple and includes as many human relationships and aspects such as religion and culture while embracing a democratic approach of accomplishing its purpose.

Slow design is above all things holistic and that’s its basis. This means that it concentrates on the interconnection that makes the whole instead of each independent part. It is also a model that does not have negative impact on the environment as well as having endurance requiring little or no maintenance. Slow design aims at maximum productivity making it highly efficient. This means expense and labor put in is not wasted. Slow design in building project also is customized to fit into the needs of the people and their environment. Other benefits include the uniqueness of the product achieved, its durability and adaptability.

Future Possibilities

As people continue learning the benefits of a slower life, it is expected that more will embrace it. With the holistic approach, the possibilities by which this field could expand into are endless. With consideration to cultural diversity and human physiological and psychological uniqueness as well as designs that promote use of locally available goods hence the economy, exponential growth can be accomplished. This is not only for the building projects but it’s also for earth and its inhabitants.


Design Begins With the General Contractor

The impact of buildings on the environment as well as on the occupants is significant. Besides impacting the environment, the design considerations of buildings also have a lot of role to play in creating or alleviating barriers in their use by the visitors in case of commercial buildings, and residents in case of residential ones.

It has been estimated that buildings account for withdrawal of 1/6th of the world’s available fresh water, a quarter of the wood and 2/5th of the energy produced. Not only does building activity require resources in order to be constructed, but buildings also need these resources in order to be maintained. Even after such huge quantum of resources being spent on their construction and maintenance, a number of buildings now suffer from sick syndrome subjecting their occupants to unhealthy air. Some of these this could have been avoided through more thoughtful planning beginning with the blueprints and construction process.

For all the reasons cited above, there is a need to formulate certain slow design considerations that begin with the general contractor so that the universal accessibility design principles are met during construction of facilities.

Here are some design considerations to bear in mind while designing residential or commercial buildings.

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Access to facilities

Access strategy:

· Access strategy should be developed at an early stage.

· The building should be made accessible to the widest spectrum of users possible.

· It should have an access and evacuation plan in place.

· Means of escape in the event of a mishap should be designed keeping users of different abilities and disabilities in view.

Connection with public street:

· Connections from transport drop-offs and pedestrian access should be considered.

· Connection routes from pavement, roads and footbridges should be identified first.

· Vehicular access from the streets to the car park or loading/unloading space needs to be given due attention.

· All accessible routes should be connected to the entrance of the building.

· Segregation of entrances of different user group such as staff, visitors etc. should be done.

External signage:

· Adequate directional signage for ease of access.

· Supplementary lighting to allow good visibility of signage in the night.

· Contrasting colors in signage to catch attention.

Here is a video illustrating how a well planned project can utilize sustainable measures within the construction process itself.

Here are some additional considerations that can be made by general contractors and designers.



· Width of the pathways should be enough to provide a passage for at least two wheelchair users to cross side by side.

· Straight pathway is a better option if possible.

· If a winding pathway is provided, the turning should have the widest possible radius to avoid acute turning.

· Grating slots should not be so small that they trap crutches or wheels. They should also not be parallel to the direction of traffic.

Changes in level:

· Ramps and slopes should be made use of to connect various levels besides steps and elevators.

· A change in level warning should be provided before the change in level.

· If the change in level is minimal, a full width sloping ground is better than a separate ramp.

· Effecting lighting at foot level to make the change in level visible.

Trees and plantings

· Plants with fragrance and bright colors should be preferred because they provide better sensory stimulation to a passerby.

· Tilt the flower beds to allow children and wheelchair users to enjoy them.

· Raised flower beds are a good idea to enable visitors reach flowers without bending.

Rest places at public areas

Adequate number of benches and seats to be catered for.

· Sitting area should be appropriately covered against sun and rain.

· Allowance of side space to let the wheelchair attendant sit next to the user.

· Availability of space to turn the wheelchair at resting places.

While few of the design consideration mentioned above are applicable to residential buildings, most of them are for commercial buildings. Let us see some design considerations specific to residential buildings.

Whole Building Design Approach for Residential Design:

This approach encourages integration of all building measures. This approach also aims at incorporating green strategies such as water conservation, durability, acoustical comfort, conserving energy, selecting eco-friendly construction material etc. There are eight design objectives that a contractor interested in ‘whole building approach for residential building’ must abide by.

Here is what these consist of:

1. Accessibility

A residential building must accommodate permanently disabled persons as well as temporary disabled ones who are combating aftermath of an injury. The building has to cater for visitability and in-place aging by considering aspects such as width of doors, location of stair cases etc. to allow equal use by all occupants.

2. Aesthetics

Beauty of a residential space may vary with interpretation of various people. It may also vary with climate, client, context and culture. Aesthetics not only apply to the facade of the building but also to interior design, landscape and the entire community.

3. Cost Effectiveness

The owner must decide whether he wants low initial costs or low operational cost. Is the house aimed at some commercial activities also? Does he want to have a house with a long life span? Answers to all these questions will have a bearing on designing a cost effective house.

4. Functionality

The designer/contractor must have a clear idea of how the home will fit its users in terms of size and proximity of spaces required for activities and equipment. Changing needs in the future must be taken into consideration to provide for expansions and replacements.

5. Productivity and Health

Indoor environment has a huge effect on the health of occupants and their productivity. Children and aged members of the house whose immune system is more likely to fail in front of toxic materials are at a greater risk. Contractors must minimize heat, noise, glare, cold, humidity and drafts whose presence is potentially dangerous.

6. Historic Preservation

Historic preservation has benefits such as retaining authenticity and increasing the value of the building when the materials used are no longer available in the open markets.

7. Safety and Security

Safety and security of the community is one of the prime goals of a residential building. The contractor must consider issues such as electrical safety, accident prevention, ergonomics and better indoor air quality while designing the building. The building must be able to resist natural disasters such as earthquakes, blizzards, tornadoes etc.

8. Sustainability

Construction and use of buildings has a considerable impact on the environment. Keeping this in view, following design principle must be borne in mind:

· Optimizing Site Potential.

· Flexible Design.

· Conserving and Protecting Water.

· Using Environmentally Preferable Products.

· Enhance Indoor Environmental Quality.

· Minimizing Energy Use and Using Renewable Energy Strategies.

· Optimizing Operations and Maintenance Practices.

· Design for End of Life.

The importance of design considerations mentioned above needs no elaboration. Here is one general contractor that understands how excellent planning goes a long way: http://grimesdevelopment.com  Proper attention to such design considerations by the contractor can go a long way in making the building environmentally sustainable as well as appropriate for use by its subscribers.  We hope these checklists are useful during the planning stage of your design and general contracting considerations.