The Norwegian state has been working for more than fifteen years on various ways of improving accessibility for the general public. An important part of this work has been to develop new legislation and other forms of formal guidelines to reduce physical barriers. The new Anti-Discrimination and Accessibility Act, Obligation to ensure general accommodation (universal design), came into force January 2009, and introduces some complicated dilemmas, especially when it states: “When assessing whether the design or accommodation entails an undue burden, particular importance shall be attached to the effect of the accommodation on the dismantling of disabling barriers, the necessary costs associated with the accommodation, the undertaking's resources, whether the normal function of the undertaking is of a public nature, safety considerations and cultural heritage considerations.” What is an “undue burden” in relation to architectural visual qualities and to the historical heritage expressed in buildings and townscapes? This paper will look into these dilemmas by discussing specific cases from some cities in different countries. What kinds of procedure are suitable and decisive when it comes to these complicated questions? Is this a task exclusively reserved for professionals, or should the voice of lay people be heard and taken into consideration? By presenting examples from architecture and landscape architecture, I will show how universal design even can be implemented in old buildings and environments. The paper will argue for more focus on procedures than just physical solutions. The procedures should be based on accepted principles for changing historical monuments, such as wholeness, readability, reversibility and sustainability.
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