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Last edited 25 Feb 2021
What makes good design?
On 8 September 2020, ICE presented an online Strategy Session, “What makes good design?”
Paul Sheffield, ICE President, chaired the session, opening with a brief overview that touched on the importance of design literacy and its relationship to infrastructure. He then acknowledged the connection between functionality and appearance, saying, “when something is visible, it should look good too.”
Sheffield went on to explain the ideology behind the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) and its design group, which has worked with ICE to develop design principles for national infrastructure. The goal of the collaboration is to seek better outcomes for climate, people, places and value in the planning and delivery of major projects.
Professor Sadie Morgan OBE, director of dRMM, discussed the origins of the NIC and reviewed its assessment published in 2018. This included an overview of the National Infrastructure Strategy, which “put good design at the heart of tomorrow’s infrastructure”. She also suggested design panels could play important part in meeting the goals for good infrastructure design.
 Lessons for new infrastructure and renewal
Sykes explained the differences between I-shaped and T-shaped infrastructure engineering. She stressed the importance of having a broader understanding of the different aspects that are part of well designed infrastructure. She also acknowledged the reality and necessity of an iterative process that includes subprocesses and feedback based on multiple objectives.
Her remarks emphasised the significance of a good design brief. She felt the brief should include consultations with key stakeholders, including technology providers, the supply chain and the wider community - both regional and local. Sykes also talked about the review of the Treasury Green Book and the growing influence of SMEs - particularly in relation to innovation.
 Innovation and environment
Andrew Grant focussed on context, examining the role of landscape and “creative ecology”. As a landscape architect, Grant placed climate at the top of the priority list for infrastructure, but acknowledged that what might be seen as a benefit to some may be quite the opposite to others. Grant suggested asking the question, “does it add value as social and environmental infrastructure”?
- Megget Reservoir, Scottish Borders.
- Pulteney Bridge and Weir, Bath (pictured above).
- Grey to Green city centre project, Sheffield.
The rail sector was reviewed by Anthony Dewar, Professional Head of Buildings & Architecture for Network Rail. With approximately 2,500 stations across the country, Network Rail deals with grand facilities such as St Pancras station in London and small facilities like the remote station - only accessible by rail, foot or boat - in Berney Arms.
In 2018, Network Rail came up with 9 Principles of Good Design, which has since been included as part of the standards and engineering process for all Network Rail developments. Other strategies include design competitions (such as the 2019 Footbridge Design Ideas competition) and digital tools such as augmented reality.
The final speaker, Professor Hanif Kara of AKTII, provided an in-depth examination of ‘good’ design by returning to the concepts introduced by Morgan as the framework for NIC’s design group. Kara saw “design as an agent of change to make a positive difference,” and described a series of examples and explanations of the Climate-People-Places-Value concept.
Explaining that money is not the only way to create value, Kara spoke of the opportunity to design a better world. This objective should be sought from the beginning, said Sykes, despite the pressures that many organisations experience. She also recognised that good design could be seen as subjective.
When asked what might be the most significant change maker for the future in terms of materials, the responses were mixed. While two speakers came up with definitive predictions (for Kara, it would be data; for Grant, it would be trees), the others felt no single thing stood out and that context would dictate what materials or concepts would become drivers of change in the future.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Business case for construction projects.
- Double diamond design process.
- Institution of Civil Engineers ICE.
- National Infrastructure Commission NIC.
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