Last edited 28 Mar 2017

Design quality for buildings

The standard of design quality required on a project should be defined 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 should 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, such as an RIBA client design 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.

NB. Stakeholder objectives can be conflicting, and preparation of a stakeholder matrix can assist in managing these conflicting requirements.

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:

  • How well the design represents client values.
  • How spaces relate to each other.
  • How well the design creates places for entry, reception, breaks, catering and so on.
  • The impact on the local community and environment.
  • Whether the design is accessible and welcoming.
  • Accessibility for people with disabilities.
  • Quality of views and outlook.
  • The internal environment; lighting, heating, air quality, acoustics etc.
  • The ability of individuals to control their environment.
  • Comfort of furniture.
  • Use of colour, texture, light and architectural features to enliven the environment.
  • Flexibility of layout.
  • Overall standard of materials and finishes (including life-span and maintenance issues).
  • Sustainability of materials.
  • Build quality and robustness of systems, finishes and fittings, furniture and equipment.
  • Energy consumption and pollution, both in construction and in use.
  • Whether the design promotes reduction, reuse and recycling of materials.
  • Innovation of design.
  • Buildability.
  • Whether the design is safe to use and maintain.
  • Security.
  • Whether the design is economical to manage and maintain.
  • Whether the design exploits opportunities for standardisation and prefabrication.
  • Whether the design can adapt to changing demands.
  • Whether the design takes account of current and proposed legislation.
  • Whole-life cost assessment including disposal method and cost.
  • Risks associated with the design.

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'.

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