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Smart design is based on a building's lifetime value

THINKING AHEAD - People are always talking about putting value for money above cost, but how does one de. ne value? A new guide aims to help answer that question, writes Richard Saxon

UK PROPERTY and construction investment has suffered for generations from a fixation with cost and a lack of ability to appreciate value.

Buildings are typically designed down to a cost by consultants and tendered to find the lowest-cost contractor to build them. There has been a nearcomplete absence of awareness of the effect of buildings on occupant performance and wellbeing or of knowledge of lifetime operating costs.

Good value was regarded as getting it for the lowest possible price, without consideration of whether 'it' was more than a generic commodity that would pass through regulation and planning hoops.

Maintenance was typically neglected, storing up the colossal reconstruction task we now face. Thankfully, things have begun to change. The new report from Constructing Excellence, Be Valuable, a Guide to creating Value in the Built Environment, outlines fresh ideas on defining value and steering projects to create it. It also lays out the research we need to do to maximise the potential of designing for value.

I led a task group formed by Be, Collaborating for the Built Environment, and nCRISP, the Construction Research and Innovation Steering Panel, which did the work and from which the report is drawn.

Value is what people think it is. Your view of what is important will stem from your own values and your role as a stakeholder in any project. Quality is what delivers value to you.

The report defines the relationship between value and quality and suggests a vocabulary for everyone to use which clarifies concepts made muddy by common usage of terms. It also suggests how stakeholders can come to an agreed value proposition for a building.

Value can be said to flow for all stakeholders from the success of occupying organisations in buildings and from the contribution of buildings and spaces to the success of communities and the public realm.

We note that the private and public sectors have started to borrow ideas from each other.

The public sector has spotted that private companies invest in the effectiveness of their organisations and assets through good design.

The private sector has noticed that the public sector is buying integrated solut ions, the provision of financed, designed, built and managed space rather than conventional projects. Public-private partnerships are addressing sustainability, which implies economic success with environmental and social responsibility.

We must now see the built environment as a working asset, not just a physical artefact. There is a lot of emerging evidence. CABE and the British Council for Offices have found large productivity gaps between best and worst performing office buildings.

Sheffield University work by Professor Bryan Lawson and Dr Michael Phiri have shown that rehoused hospital units experience far better patient outcomes and annual operating savings greater than the cost of the new space.

Cambridge University has increased occupant satisfaction in its new buildings by asking designers to stay on to give a 'soft landing', sorting out all commissioning worries and teaching the occupants how to use the building best.

They also learn for their next job. Learning from how buildings work in practice and what it costs to run them is beginning to inform much better design, just as we now have better jet engines with the makers financing, leasing and servicing them rather than just selling them.

We have given nCRISP a programme of research to follow to give us the tools to base design and management thinking on evidence of performance for each specialist sector, and to give us the vocabulary to make better business cases. We also want to learn what the total contribution is of the built environment to national performance and wellbeing.

In Finland they think it is 25 per cent of GDP. The quality of life and economic competitiveness of the UK could be greatly enhanced by a switch to valuebased practice across the built environment sector.

Constructing Excellence will act as a benchmarking focus for all stakeholders and a support to those developing integrated solutions, a change towards life-cycle thinking rather than the project concept.

The construction industry has a great deal to gain. We can create more customer and public value and keep more of it ourselves by working on a value-seeking basis. Be Valuable provides a primer for us to begin.