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Last edited 18 Sep 2020
Design quality for buildings
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.
- To ensure that the vision for design quality is defined.
- To ensure that objectives for design quality are described in briefing documents and are properly understood by the consultant team.
- To monitor and evaluate design quality throughout the design process.
- Existing corporate policies (such as environmental policies).
- Key requirements of the business.
- Key requirements of stakeholders and user panels.
- The views of external organisations such as Historic England or Design Council Cabe.
- Local and national legislation (for example local planning requirements for energy use).
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.
- Whether the design is safe to use and maintain.
- 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.
- Housing quality indicators (HQI).
- Achieving Excellence in Design Evaluation Toolkit (AEDET) for healthcare buildings.
- Design Excellence Evaluation Process (DEEP) for defence projects.
- Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) for fuel economy, waste and pollution, environmental diversity and transport.
- Construction Industry Council design quality indicator.
- Building for life (for housing developments).
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.’
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Best practice.
- Concept design.
- Concept architectural design.
- Concept architectural design checklist.
- Detailed design.
- Design flexibility.
- Design life.
- Design process essentials.
- Design review.
- Design risk management.
- Design web.
- Key performance indicators.
- Improving quality in the built environment.
- Manufacturer’s certificate.
- Quality in construction projects.
- Quality management systems (QMS) - beyond the documentation.
- Quality manuals and quality plans.
- Re-evaluating the design life of buildings.
- Value management.
- Visitor flow.
- Whole life costs.
 External references
- OGC Achieving Excellence Guide 9 - Design Quality.
- The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE: now part of the Design Council): Design Review.
- CABE: Creating Excellent Buildings.
- CABE: Monitoring Design Quality.
- BRE Design Quality Indicator (DQI) facilitation.
- CIC Design quality indicator online.
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