Philip Watson, Director HLM Architects Social Value Text

There is increasing consideration being given to the “social value” of infrastructure and development. The issue is now de rigueur, a new lexicon is manifesting alongside the appearance of social value awards categories and social value champion appointments across the construction industry. The increased awareness and interest in social value are very welcome, after all, it is the social impact of architecture that drives our practice.

What we should be saying is, “Good design adds value – economically, socially and ecologically.”

Since 2012, local authorities have awarded contracts based on value for money rather than initial capital costs and many developers and contractors have reacted in kind with their own measures of social value to help them secure this work. However, almost all this is focused on the construction phase of development, with little emphasis on the operational impacts and virtually no consideration of the role design can have in generating social value. “Good design doesn’t cost money,” is a mantra that many designers repeat but this only recognises part of the picture. What we should be saying is, “Good design adds value – economically, socially and ecologically.”

The big challenge facing architects and designers is how to demonstrate this value in objective and tangible ways. As an industry, we have a poor track record in doing post-occupancy evaluation of any kind, and even if we do, how can we capture the impact of good design on communities? How can we measure the advantages? There is no common or accepted methodology. But we can seize the initiative to demonstrate the value of our profession.

The RIBA is developing a social value toolkit, due to be published by the RIBA Practice Committee sometime soon. We hope it will enable us to demonstrate improved design outcomes. What is desperately needed is a consistent measure of social value that is recognised by policy makers to become a yardstick for future investment.

This piece is an extract from a recent article published in Building Magazine. For the full article follow this link: