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Center for Universal Design NCSU – About the Center

Center for Universal Design NCSU – About the Center

Center for Universal Design NCSU – About the Center


Ron Mace, founder and program director of
The Center for Universal Design, passed away
on June 29, 1998 in his home in Raleigh.
He was 56 years old.

Design Pioneer and Visionary of Universal Design Ron Mace was a nationally and internationally recognized architect, product designer and educator whose design philosophy challenged convention and provided a design foundation for a more usable world.

He coined the term “universal design” to describe the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life. He was also a devoted advocate for the rights of people with disabilities which is reflected in his work.

He graduated from the School of Design at North Carolina State University in 1966 with a Bachelor’s degree in architecture. After four years of practicing conventional architecture, he became involved in the effort to produce the first building code for accessibility in the nation. This code became mandatory in North Carolina in 1973 and served as a model for other states. Ron’s pioneering work in accessible design was instrumental in the passage of national legislation prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities, the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 and The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

In 1989, Ron established the federally-funded Center for Accessible Housing, currently known as The Center for Universal Design, at the School of Design at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He was also Research Professor in the Architecture Department at the School of Design. Under Ron’s direction, the Center has become a leading national and international resource for research and information on universal design in housing, products, and the built environment. Several of the projects Ron directed at the Center include the development of universal house plans for a modular home company; new universal designs for a thermostat, an adjustable toilet, faucets, and a multi-use modular bathing unit; and a number of design publications. Under his direction, the Center was a co-sponsor of “Designing for the 21st Century: An International Conference on Universal Design” held in New York in June 1998. Ron Mace’s last speech that he gave at the 1998 international conference. He discusses the differences between assistive technology, barrier-free and universal design; he also describes several examples of universal design.

Ron was also President of Barrier Free Environments, Inc.(BFE), an accessible design consulting firm, and a Principal of BFE Architecture, P.A. in Raleigh, North Carolina. At BFE, Inc. Ron consulted on accessibility issues for The Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC; the design of a universal street toilet for JC Decaux of France; and the grounds and buildings at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. While at BFE, Ron also produced a number of publications on accessible design including The Planner’s Guide to Barrier Free Meetings (1980), The Accessible Housing Design File (1991), The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines Tech Sheet Series (1994-95), and Highlights of the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design Slide Show (1993).

Ron was a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and received the Distinguished Service Award of the President of the United States in 1992 for distinguished service in promoting dignity, equality, independence and employment of people with disabilities.

We shall all remember Ron Mace as a caring friend, a devoted advocate, an ingenious designer, a mentor, and a man of truth, integrity, and perseverance. His efforts have significantly impacted the world we live in many ways-legislation requiring equal access for people with disabilities, design guidelines for accessibility, universal design solutions, and greater independence for people with disabilities and older adults. His work, however, is not finished. We must all work as professionals and individuals to make his vision of a universally usable world a reality.

To help continue Ron’s work at the Center, The Ron Mace Endowment has been established to help support design students with disabilities and to help students with a focus on accessible and universal design. Tax deductible contributions may be made with c hecks made payable to: NC State Foundation/Ron Mace Fund, mailed in care of The Center for Universal Design. 

The North Carolina State University Library contains a collection of “documents [relating to] Ronald Mace’s work as an architect, designer, consultant, and educator, as well as an advocate for the rights of the disabled. The collection reflects work produced from 1974 to 1998, with the bulk of the material from 1980 to 1990. The records include correspondence, project reports, architectural drawings, videos, and publications. Much of the material reflects Mace’s work as a consultant with BFE, Inc.” Guide to the Ronald L. Mace Papers, 1974-1998, bulk 1980-1998

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