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The cost of bad design

Highlighting what really happens when buildings and spaces go wrong.

Everyone can think of a building they hate, a street that really depresses them, or a place where they'd call in the bulldozers. People don't need to be told when the built environment around them isn't working - they already know.

The cost of bad design highlights what really happens when buildings and spaces go wrong.

What did you say?

We asked you to tell us about the buildings, streets and spaces that you really dislike.

We received more than 600 emails, with a wide range of passionate and informed views on how bad design directly affects your lives. Your emails raised a wide range of issues, showing how bad design goes far beyond aesthetics:

  • Character
    Many buildings were seen as depressing or failing to inspire, that drained character and distinctiveness from an area.
  • Context
    Many developments were inappropriate for their surroundings, often because of their scale, or because they failed to blend in.
  • Maintenance
    Maintenance issues ranged from rapidly deteriorating appearance to failings in the fabric of a building.
  • Fitness for purpose
    Buildings were unfit for purpose and unable to fulfill their intended function - from town centres to key functions within buildings.
  • Layout
    Many nominations mentioned poor layout - places or buildings that were confusing, badly signposted or difficult to navigate.
  • Public realm
    A major issue was the provision made for pedestrians which had a significant effect on people’s everyday lives.
  • Security
    Buildings and spaces with poor security can attract crime - a threatening atmosphere can be exacerbated by bad design.
  • Access
    There are still plenty of places (including hospitals) that do not meet the accessibility standards we have a right to expect.
  • Comfort
    Badly designed buildings are uncomfortable places to spend time in with problems of acoustics, humidity, heat and light.
  • Sustainability
    Structures that currently appear to work well may be storing up insurmountable problems for the near future.

What can we do?

Offer leadership

  • the Treasury should ensure that The green book (the government’s guide to value for money), requires long-term thinking on design quality
  • the economic appraisal process must take account of the whole-life costs of a building project
  • the government and local authorities need to demand good design and reject bad.

Aim high

There is now a mandatory requirement for every new public building to meet the common minimum standards set down by the Office of Government Commerce. They explicitly state that building projects must be selected on the basis of whole life value for money, not just capital cost.

Find out whether it works

We believe that every school and healthcare building should be subject to mandatory post-occupancy analysis, at regular intervals after handover.

Tackle the issues in public-private partnerships (PPP)

A vast amount of public infrastructure is being built right now using public private partnerships. On average, five schools will be refurbished or rebuilt every week for the next 13 years.

  • there ought to be an incentive for PPP providers to invest in good-quality design because they will benefit from lower whole-life costs. We still see too many projects where quality has been sacrificed for short-term savings.
  • we must embed in every procurement process a direct link between access to finance and satisfactory design proposals. If the design is not good enough, the project should be stopped until it is.