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Thursday24 July 2014

New RIBA president launches major project to prove value of architecture

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‘What’s missing is the evidence,’ admits Stephen Hodder

The incoming president of the RIBA has admitted there is no evidence that good design improves people’s lives.

Most of the claims made about the effect buildings have on their occupants are anecdotal, said Stephen Hodder.

On the eve of his inauguration, he has ordered RIBA staff to embark on a major research project on the value of architecture which will provide ministers with the kind of proof they demand.

“We all say good design in schools improves behaviour and in hospitals it aids recovery and in workplaces it improves efficiency, but there’s no evidence,” said Hodder who officially takes over from Angela Brady on Wednesday.

The initiative was welcomed by the writer Toby Young, chairman of the trust that set up the West London Free School who has previously accused architects of “extraordinary arrogance” in claiming buildings improve people’s lives.

“I think it’s a very good idea,” he told BD. “For decades, if not centuries, architects have been attributing magical properties to their buildings and it’s very sensible of Stephen Hodder to want to find out if there’s any evidence to support these claims. I am sceptical but I look forward to seeing the data.”

The three-year project, led by the RIBA’s external affairs team, will tackle the subject in far greater depth than the Farrell Review which is due to report by the end of the year.

Staff will begin by collating any existing studies before considering whether to commission their own research.

“We think there’s probably not a great deal of work out there,” said Hodder who has also put them in touch with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) which is undertaking a similar piece of work.

The project, one of 160 goals in the RIBA’s five-year plan, will build on a short report commissioned by Ruth Reed at the end of her presidency called Good Design: It All Adds Up.

“That was largely anecdotal and I think we need to take it a stage further,” said Hodder.

“I want to add presidential weight to this project because the idea we could engage with politicians using language they understand is very exciting.

“What’s missing is the evidence. If we can demonstrate that architecture can bring economic value or improve performance in workplaces or engender a better sense of community, we can elevate design up the government’s agenda.”

It would allow the RIBA to stand up to ministers such as Michael Gove who axed Labour’s £55 billion school building programme the minute he became education secretary, dismissing any suggestion that good design could improve pupils’ performance.

 

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Readers' comments (31)

  • No evidence? Try the Adademy of Neuroscience for architecture and what about research conducted in other fields such as environmental psychology, do we just disregard all that has previously been found and spend money researching what has already been discovered?!

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  • I remember someone asking Jarvis Cocker (back in my uni days) why he always came across melancholic hated in happy music, and he said something along the lines of "try waking up in a shitty, damps council flat in Sheffield......."

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  • This is the most absurd and pointless project I've ever heard of. The equivalent of trying to prove that literature has value, or music. The lowest common denominator of stupidity. And the fact that it has been welcomed by Toby Young underscores its worthlessness.

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  • Having a local swimming pool that is open, that would be an improvement.

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  • Robert Park

    What we need is some sturdy research that demonstrates the cultural value of architecture, not it's economic value. And when I refer to culture, I do not just mean high culture, but the culture of local

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  • Robert Park

    .... communities, working class culture, historic culture. This is where the value of architects, can and should have most bearing.

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  • What a broad statement! The architecture of one's surroundings has no effect on our lives? Of course it does. Ask someone who has lived in a slum whether being able to move to a new well designed flat the architecture that surrounds them has not only changed their lives but uplifted their sprits. What also concerns me is how is the RIBA going to fund what is a three year project this research project? If it is not going to involve taking on additional staff - or hiring consultants what existing work will need to be stopped or reduced to make room for this initiative? Owen Luder PPRIBA

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  • After St Catherine's and Clissold Leisure Centre, Hodder's comments must be a satire? Surely? I would strongly advise the President to say nothing on the subject of value for money. No one in government will take him seriously.

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  • Andrew, exactly.
    Q: Which architect gives you £7M value for £45M expenditure?
    A:?

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  • This is a ridiculous need to make Architecture consumable and a political dead end for our new President.

    I think it will be easy to quantify improvements but how do we separate or ratio the improvements caused by good design vs better teaching etc.

    What is the neutral in this experiment? Volume house builders buildings, industrial box store, portable?

    Whoever suggested this, is clearly an enemy of Architecture and has dropped his sheep's clothing to devour the new born lamb.

    We need a strong and willy President and hopefully Stephen Hodder learns fast.

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