One positive trend to have emerged during lockdown is the growing importance people now place on physical activity and engaging with their local communities.

Félicie Krikler

Félicie Krikler

A recent Sport England study found 60% of respondents were using exercise to make them feel better and manage their mental health during the pandemic, and 44% of respondents in a study by the University of West England wanted to get more involved in the life of their neighbourhood post-lockdown.

More than ever, architects need to design places that will support communities in making these changes. It also makes it more critical than ever to be able to evaluate the social value delivered by designs and to consider how design decisions will help meet the demand for places that positively impact the wellbeing of communities, both socioeconomically and environmentally.

Social value has, to date, been seen as challenging to define. But if it were better understood, by explaining the positive societal impact of architecture’s contribution to where we live, it could have a significant impact. RIBA’s Social Value Toolkit for Architecture, which I am delighted to have contributed to on behalf of Assael Architecture, aims to make it simple for architects to demonstrate and evaluate the impact of design on people and communities.

It lists questions that can be used during the design process, after construction or as a post-occupancy exercise, to assess four strands of social value: fostering positive emotions; connecting people with their environment; providing autonomy for different lifestyles; and supporting communities in designing their neighbourhoods.

Senior couple jogging

Source: Shutterstock/ Mladen Zivkovic

A recent AJ100 survey found that post-occupancy evaluation is ‘always’ completed by just 4% of AJ100 practices, highlighting how many firms are missing out on a pivotal opportunity to gain valuable feedback.

Measuring social value

The toolkit also includes a ‘social return on investment’ methodology to monetise the social value of housing outcomes. This draws on a range of existing proxies with relevance to housing design; it measures value that accrues to an individual as a result of the benefits that are delivered by design choices.

By gathering answers to these questions, architects can gauge how a person’s sense of pride in an area has changed, whether they feel safer and can be more physically active. This can inform future decisions and encourages our clients to consider the impact of their design decisions.

Designing for end-users is an integral part of the architect’s brief, and by putting social value at the centre of the design process from the outset, then re-evaluating projects through post occupancy evaluation, we can have a positive impact on people’s lives.

Félicie Krikler is director at Assael Architecture

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