17 Jan 2021

Universal Design And The Hierarchy of Needs

Authenticity, creativity and transcendence are the ultimate outcomes of Universal Design. They are each the product of separate models that form the three-legged stool of the individual rather than the environment. So how is this achieved?



Our most fundamental needs, according to Abraham Maslow, starts with establishing the physical basics of food, sleep, warmth, safety and security in order to develop the broader communal needs of belonging, love and relationships, which in turn underpin our esteem, self confidence and ultimately self-fulfilment. While the famous pyramid suggests a progression, these needs are continually evolving and resolving both between the levels and within themselves. The core is the structure of life required to achieve the ultimate goal of life – authenticity. Contribution, participation – even transcendence – are as essential as a warm roof over our head, regular meals and a good nights sleep.

In 1956, educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom helped establish another pyramid. Known as Bloom’s Taxonomy, it had six level’s to Maslow’s five and reflected the shift from knowledge to evaluation. Redefined later by Lorin Anderson – a student of Bloom’s – as the shift from remembering to creating, it enabled educators to engage and facilitate with students using a holistic and perceptive-based model that reflects today’s tech-based environment.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is used to develop the environment – in this case academic – rather than the participant – in this case, the student. Against a backdrop of teaching aims and methods, it acknowledges the broad range of representation, engagement and response between teacher and student required before an outcome can be determined. Defining the response in terms of action and expression, the anticipated outcome is that of knowledge received, processed and creatively demonstrated in a way that can also be repeated at a later time.


From a UD perspective, this model of learning assumes the diversity of its participants, paralleling Maslow’s ultimate need for authenticity with Bloom’s / Anderson’s environment of achievement. There’s a third aspect to this however, that of the built / manufactured environment that not only supports in a ‘form follow’s function’ way, but that also inspires in a transcendent way. Thus we have the 3-legged stool – the simplest form of support – as follows :

  • Authenticity
  • Creativity
  • Transcendence

This then is the heart of UD, that of a seamless, creative and inspirational backdrop to the lives and longings of the participants, regardless of constraints or limitations.


Inherent to this is that of reception – how has it been received? Has the Sense of Place resulted in the desire to return? Have the needs of Maslow and the environment of Bloom enabled the sensory-compromised individual to transcend, to create, express, contribute and be received on the same terms as anyone else? Indeed such an outcome requires greater effort due to the compromised nature of the participant as more is required in order to achieve the same result – a situation that is perilously close to becoming discriminatory. If perception and the desire to return is our outcome, what criteria do we use to evaluate it? Is it a simple pro’s and con’s exercise, or is it gauged in terms of a participants contribution? What about cultural diversity – can one arena cater for all? Is that indeed it’s role?


Perhaps the ultimate building is a huge hall or warehouse which supplies the services required while staying free of the activities within. The Pompidou Centre by Lord Rogers would be a good example of just that. Designed specifically to be a large serviced platform with all its services around the outside, this huge box truss of a building, combines simplicity with a high degree of deliverability. Aesthetically inspirational in its own right, it serves rather than demands, supports rather than interferes. It satisfies the Sense of Place in a seamless and transcendent way, passing the ‘desire to return’ test by fulfilling even the most compromised sensory expectations.


Universal Design is more than just an optimised arena, it is an environment that supports transcendence – the ultimate human outcome. It is theatre, studio, workshop, library, research centre, classroom, playground and more, each a platform that underpins the practice of an unhindered life. It inspires as it is inspiring, fulfilling as it assists transcendence. Its Sense of Place and fulfilment of the desire to return is its contribution to authenticity.