This Must Be The Place

Callum Taylor

Callum Taylor, 7 September 2018

The Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building and Big Ben: three different structures, yet each recognised as masterful examples of architecture and design. How was this recognition earned? Did an arbiter of design make the decision on behalf of the public, or was it through universal appeal? While expert insight into the technical prowess of the architects and engineers was crucial, the public’s combined value judgements had no small part in elevating the buildings to their iconic status of today. The public understood there was value to the buildings beyond their purpose. But what was the criteria that we collectively used to make these value judgements? Are there consistent standards by which all three buildings were judged as possessing value?

Measuring the value of buildings can be problematic – there is a shared understanding of the concept of value, but it can be very hard to articulate or measure beyond visitation numbers, and estimated sales price, and fuzzy language about how they make people feel. Nonetheless, if you asked a handful of people why they like a place, you’re bound to come up with some standard themes. Our homes feel warm and comfortable, our workplaces are functional and professional, and our local bar has a great atmosphere. These feelings are familiar and innate, and researchers are building frameworks to understand what places produce what feelings and why. 

One example of such a framework has been drafted by Chartered Architect and researcher Sebastian Macmillian. He offers six key data points that take these fuzzy feelings about buildings and places them on a measurable scale:  

  1. Exchange value: The value of the property as a commodity to be traded. This includes property value, return on capital and profitability. 
 
  2. Use value: The value of the property to organisational outcomes and use-cases, including efficiency, environment and atmosphere, and accessibility. 
 
  3. Image value: The value of a property as a form of personal prestige. This includes factors such as pride, reputation, branding and appearances. 
 
  4. Social value: The value of the property as a social commodity. It includes the value of place as a social environment, social identity, and safety provided through reduced crime or vandalism. 

  5. Environmental value: The value of the property as a sustainable building, including environmental impact and carbon footprint. 
 
  6. Cultural value: The value of the building as a cultural asset. This includes how well the building integrates with the community without perverting the existing culture, and the cultural relevance and longevity of the building. 

By applying a structured framework and clarifying the language associated with our value judgements it is possible to further our understanding of the importance of architecture and design and to use that insight to improve practice over time. It helps us understand not only that buildings have value, but also why they have value and to what extent.

Our homes are important because of the significant social value we place on them – they make us feel safe, secure, and comfortable. Our workplaces are valuable because of their functionality – they enable us to work efficiently and in a professional environment. The Eiffel Tower has important cultural and artistic value – it has become an icon associated with France’s cultural landscape. By standardising the language we use to describe good design, we can start to measure and articulate its true value.

Macmillan, S. (2006) Added value of good design. Building Research and Information, 34(3), 257-261.

Valuing Culture

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