A Valuable Exercise? Research on Value of Design

Craig McLaren, Director of RTPI Scotland, on research recently published by Scottish Government

Scottish Government has just published research into the Value of Design which they commissioned Doug Wheeler Associates, Austen-Smith: Lord and Ryden to undertake. The purpose of the research was to provide an analysis of how ‘value’ is handled in the development process in Scotland. On a quick skim of the research it appears to provide some useful information and context what has been an issue the built environment sector has been grappling with for years. Much of it may reinforce some already well worn assumptions and intuition, but having an evidence base on which to hang these is progress in itself.

Fauldhouse Way 0908

The research contains a number of key findings The first is that “Well-designed buildings and places are currently ‘valued’ within the built environment sector in Scotland in a variety of ways that are not consistent, transparent or comparable and from a range of different standpoints”. The report does say, however that evidence tends to be anecdotal and people are often reinforced by their professional discipline and their role in the development process. The fact that there isn’t a common language to discuss the topic across disciplines so as to agree a series design objectives for a specific project appears to be a barrier to reaching a shared understanding of value of design.

Key Finding 2, flowing from the lack of consistency highlighted in Key Finding 1, is that “design value is measured or assessed differently across professional disciplines. The property market uses the standard definition of market value, which may or may not implicitly incorporate values ascribed to design by other disciplines including economic, social and environmental attributes”. The research has identified nine types of value and at least seventeen different tools that are used to assess value. This comes when over 62% of respondents to the online questionnaire said that value needs to be assessed in a more practical way to reflect current policy and market conditions. The report says that overall there is awareness of existing tools and relevant policy statements such as Creating Places as well as an appetite for and recognition of the benefit of a more holistic and practical approach to the value of design in the built environment.

The third key finding says that the research has “demonstrated that design as a process can play a fundamental and positive role in the different stages of development in the built environment (site selection, project team selection, development concept, masterplan, pre- application and on site)” and that “Embedding design thinking through the development process can add value. In particular, design is a vital element in decision-making at the critical early stages of development, often before the trained designers”.

The fourth key finding is that the findings of the report and design value in general should be acknowledged and promoted through a Scottish Government commitment to a wider programme of longitudinal and cross property development sector research and through advocacy. The authors set out a fairly detailed action plan for Scottish Government under four headings, which are to:

  1.  Investigate the way in which well-designed buildings and places are currently ‘valued’ within the built environment.
  2. Understand how design value is currently assessed i.e. by professional bodies such as Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, housebuilders and commercial developers.
  3. Gauge if design value needs to be captured in a more appropriate way to reflect current policy, economic and market conditions.
  4. Develop case studies where design ‘adds value’ to the built environment and well-being of how people live

Hopefully the report has kick started more thinking on this and helped to focus some action from Scottish Government on an extremely important, but often ignored issue.

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