Last edited 15 Jul 2021

Design quality for buildings

The standard of design quality required on a project should be defined primarily by the client.

Design quality is not always the primary objective for the client; time or cost may be more important. Furthermore, it is only realistic to specify a very high standard of design quality, if the budget is available to achieve that standard.

Design quality can have a number of different meanings and so it needs to be defined in a clear way that is prioritised, measurable and testable. The client should appoint an internal senior design champion to be responsible for ensuring the design achieves the required design quality.

The design champion's role is:

If the client has little experience of design and construction projects, they may wish to appoint an independent client adviser to assist them.

When defining objectives for design quality the client should consider:

Benchmarking and visiting existing similar buildings can also be of benefit.

It is important that assessment of design quality is carried out in a structured, formal way, and is properly recorded. Design quality can be defined, prioritised and measured quite precisely, and criteria weighting can help in the appraisal of options, in particular where conflicting views exist amongst those carrying out the assessment.

Aspects of a design that might be assessed could include:

Assessment of design quality should take place alongside value management and risk assessment.

Some existing systems for assessing design quality, or aspects of it, include:

The Common Minimum Standards (CMS) are the standards to which built environments procured by government departments need to comply. CMS are mandatory on central government departments in England.

NB: The National Planning Policy Framework suggests that design quality should be a consideration in determining planning applications, stating that 'Permission should be refused for development of poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions'.

However, in July 2013 in a letter by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, he ruled in response to an application by Gleeson to Sheffield City Council that '...although elements of the proposal could be improved, overall it is not a poor design that would warrant a refusal of permission under the test in paragraph 64 of the Framework'.

NB Guidance for public sector contracting authorities on the procurement of construction works, published by the Scottish Procurement and Property Directorate on 21 Dec 2018 defines design quality as: ‘… a combination of functionality (how useful the facility is in achieving its purpose); impact (how well the facilities creates a sense of place: and build quality (performance of the completed facility). Design quality is about much more than style or appearance – it incorporates the key requirements of the stakeholders, functionality, whole-life value in relation to maintenance, management and flexibility, health and safety, sustainability and environmental impact. It is not merely subjective; it can defined and measured.’

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