thoughts on our urban future

How should we value design?

How do you value this design?

This morning, a panel of experts discussed a scrappage scheme for buildings, similar to that enacted for cars (owners would get an above-average price for their current car to encourage them to replace it with a new one) and boilers (where old, inefficient heating systems – if replaced – could access a grant covering a fraction of its replacement cost).

While the former aimed to kick-start the ailing car industry in several global economies (rather successfully), the latter aimed to encourage landlords and homeowners to forgo future the remaining lives of their existing heating systems for a newer and more efficient replacement. This was interesting, as it encouraged landowners to invest in their property, making it more efficient for the tenants. Obviously when a landlord does so, he or she expects to see a return in the investment, which is often not correspond to an increase in rent or service charge. The government scheme provided some encouragement for this to happen.

While the convoluted debate centred on many benefits of a building scrappage scheme (a misnomer as such a scheme would promote retention of buildings, and not demolition of them, and instead would encourage the replacement of inefficient parts of buildings – such as heating elements, glazing, insulation, etc) it steered off path with a focus on sustaining and growing the construction industry. While the industry has been hit hard by the current economic climate, this is not a sufficient subsidy to deal with the issue. However, it is a sufficient subsidy to shift our inefficient building stock to one that uses less energy and in a more efficient way. In the future, we need to change how we built, dwell and live in our towns and cities. We will have to shift our value systems and promote a more sustainable way of life – as far reaching from our economy considers growth to how we put a monetary value on carbon.

One of the innovative ideas was to tax energy use as one of the primary taxes within a society – from energy production through to end-users. Where necessary, the vulnerable (ranging from seniors with limited incomes to extremely energy-intensive industries) could be subsided accordingly, and weaned off subsidies in the future, as necessary. I thought that this is worth further thought and study. It’s also neat in that it helps to value embedded energies (the efforts and results constructed of all past energy), as reuse, recycling and reclamation are inherently promoted compared to the costs associated to produce anew.  But I couldn’t help wonder how you value design in the process?

I agree design is currently undervalued (if even at all valued in certain circumstances). For example, the office I work from is north-facing with an impressive window encompassing 50% of the wall, and the glazing continues into the roof pitch. The office is double height and has excellent rear (read quiet and peaceful) views across central London, as it is location on the top floor. The same office on the first floor has the identical footprint, it is only single height and has views of large compressors and HVAC equipment only a few metres away; there are no views of the city. Both offices have the same rental value and both pay the same in taxes (business rates). This example extends throughout the property market in the UK, and most countries. I am at a loss to explain why design is not reflected in our market values.

In the future we need to value design, otherwise a speedily and cheaply built 1960’s building may be viewed in equal terms with one our greatest historic buildings, as both will have accumulated past energies, but no qualitative judgement is associated with the end product. So how could we – or should we – put a value on design in our forthcoming low-carbon future?!


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    Interesting that community engagement about design value produces some very good and consitent spatial responses. Worth checking out Placeshaping Web page or the one above.

  2. This is a very interesting topic and one worth some investigation on my part before I make any serious comments. I am conducting my own little research with the valuators and real estate agents on what obtains in my little part of the world.

    In a world where design contributes to value, I guess you would be paying much more rent for your office space than the chaps on the first floor.

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