DGNB, DGNB System Version 2018
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Accessibility, safety and security – or how buildings can open the door to more mobility

People should feel comfortable in buildings. This a fundamental requirement of the DGNB. And by focusing on issues such as accessibility, safety and security, its criteria for sociocultural and functional quality contribute to this aim.

Nowadays it should go without saying that buildings have as few barriers as possible, making them accessible to all people. Regardless of people’s personal circumstances and individual physical abilities. The DGNB addresses this important issue through the “Design for all” criterion (SOC2.1). Its relevance becomes even more apparent when you consider that it is one of only two disqualifying criteria in the DGNB Certification System. In concrete terms, this means that buildings that do not meet minimum accessibility requirements will not be granted certification*.

More-sense principle

Buildings shouldn’t only be accessible for people with impaired mobility, but also for those with visual or hearing difficulties. Can users tell which floor they are on by touching a stair railing? Does the lift tell them which level they’ve arrived on as the doors open? A multisensory approach should encompass visual, acoustic and tactile aids. Buildings achieve higher scores if more areas of the building are accessible to individuals with motor, sensory or cognitive disabilities.

Plan for accessibility from the very start

Don’t forget visual, acoustic and tactile aids.

The most important time to think about barrier-free design is during planning. Wider doors, flat door thresholds, accessible toilets, guidance systems and tactile elements are easiest to plan and install if they’re thought about at the very beginning. Proactive solutions can avoid the cost of required retrofitting or extensive renovations later down the road. The DGNB also recommends calling in experts who are familiar with the complexity of these topics and pertinent legal requirements.

Everyone benefits

Barrier-free design increases the appeal of a building to all kinds of people, although of course people with some of the impairments mentioned above will draw particular benefit from thoughtful planning. But people carrying luggage, parents with pushchairs and indeed anyone starting to feel the physical impact of age will enjoy the advantages of accessible buildings. Especially in light of ongoing demographic shifts, human diversity should be seen as a source of potential – and buildings should be equipped accordingly, regardless of whether individuals with disabilities or impairments will be using a building under current plans.

No limits on freedom of movement

Freedom of movement is not just affected by physical disabilities, fear can also be a problem for some people. Clever planning by the architects can avoid presenting users of a building with apparently dangerous options. The trick is to strike the right balance. Often people only notice safety measures when they feel something isn’t safe enough or safety measures have been exaggerated. For example, when they feel uncomfortable rushing across a badly lit courtyard. Or when there are high fences everywhere or omnipresent security cameras, this can trigger anxiety.

We feel safer when main walkways are well lit.

People generally feel safer when entrances, paths, inner courtyards and parking areas are well planned and offer good visibility. The main paths and publicly accessible outdoor areas should also be well lit and bike stands, bus stops and car parks should be easy to reach without long detours. In most cases, such measures are also an effective way to reduce the risk of accidents as well as potential threats from unwanted visitors.

Of course solid protection is not just about the people who use a building, but also the building itself. Preventative measures can also cut the risk of break-ins. Residential buildings that are equipped with shutters on the lower floors, alarm systems or burglar-proof doors and windows earn higher marks under DGNB certification.

These are only a selection of examples that underscore how seriously the DGNB takes its mission of human-centric building design. After all, a building is only truly sustainable if people feel comfortable, safe and secure as they move around it.

(*this does not apply to New Construction logistics buildings and New Construction production buildings)

Filed under: DGNB, DGNB System Version 2018


Dr. Christine Lemaitre was born in Gießen, Germany in 1975 and studied structural engineering at the University of Stuttgart from 1995 to 2000. After working in the USA for two years as structural engineer, she started in 2003 working at the Institute of Lightweight Structures Design and Construction at the University of Stuttgart as a research and teaching assistant. In 2007, she started as a project manager for R&D at Bilfinger Berger AG in the area of resource efficient buildings. She completed her phd thesis on adaptive lightweight structures in 2008. In January 2009 she took on the role as director certification system of the German Sustainable Building Council. Since February 2010 Dr. Christine Lemaitre is the CEO of the German Sustainable Building Council. Since 2013 she is member of the board of directors of the Sustainable Building Alliance. From 2015 until June 2019 she was Chair of the European Regional Network (ERN) of the World Green Building Council. Since 2016 she is board member of the World Green Building Council (WGBC).

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