Good design: Not an added extra

A night time view of iconic buildings in Singapore.What makes good design in the built environment, and who is it good for? And how do you measure the value of good design? These are vexed questions when it comes to everyone who has a stake in urban environments and housing.  Property developers will have one idea of value, designers another, and users and occupiers will have yet another view. So how to bring this together and measure good design? It’s not an added extra. 

An article by urban researchers and the Victorian Government Architect discusses these issues. The construction industry is considered a major contributor to Australia’s economy. Consequently, measurements of value will be in dry economic terms. But value to citizens cannot be measured with existing economic models. This requires qualitative measures – that is, getting out and asking people about their experiences with the built environment. The article has charts comparing different perspectives on design and value that make the points well.

The title of the article is Placing a value on good design for cities: evidence and prospects. Although published in 2014, the content remains relevant today. The article joins the dots between the public environment and our homes. So it is particularly relevant in light of the work being done by the Australian Building Codes Board. The “Accessible Housing” project has reached the stage of political decision-making. The article makes some pertinent points in this regard:

“The challenge is to broaden from readily measured elements of design such as cost per square metre or apartment size, to include the less readily measured ones such as sense of security or good ventilation…” One architect argued that good design “improves the function and usability of the house, while reducing building costs.” This was achieve by reducing the “‘wasted’ hallway space by 5%, translating to a reduced construction cost of around $18,000.”

There is a companion article with an emphasis on apartment design

Abstract: The built environment has value. Most commonly, that value is established through market prices for rent or purchase. Some elements of value, while recognised as important, are under-appreciated as it is difficult for them to be directly monetised or quantified in other terms. In addition, the value of the built environment from the perspective of general users, the community of public stakeholders, may differ and conflict with those of individual private stakeholders. This paper works with the proposition that good design in the built environment imparts value and that there is a need to articulate value in order to inform decisions about what is good design and how to achieve best value built environment outcomes. To be widely accepted and effective, arguments for good design must rest on a rigorous evidence base, with a clear methodology for establishing a cost-benefit assessment process or other consistent measurement approaches. Research addressing these issues has been investigated internationally, particularly from the UK. However, the value of good design is under researched in Australia. There is, therefore, a requirement for research which seeks to improve the evidence surrounding the value of good design in the Australian context. This paper presents a review of the current state of research into the value of good design for the built environment, both in Australia and internationally. Following this, methods to address key gaps for valuation are presented and steps for further research outlined.