Design excellence should be at the heart of all development. But what makes design good or bad? How can you build in beauty and longevity?
Professor Sadie Morgan’s lecture will showcase practical examples where early testing and thinking have elevated the impact of infrastructure projects.
Looking at both policy and projects, from the National Infrastructure Strategy policy document for the NIC, to the Birmingham Curzon Street Station for HS2, her lecture will examine the elements behind making good design happen.
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A lecture by Sadie Morgan OBE recorded on 25 April 2023 at Barnard's Inn Hall, London.
The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website: https://www.gresham.ac.uk/watch-now/infrastructure-beauty
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Today I want to talk about two things, beauty and longevity. And I want to talk about the different definitions of beauty and the importance of considering those definitions at many scales, because I believe beauty should be at the heart of all development, a key ingredient to ensure design excellence is built excellence in our built environment. But what makes good design, I believe beauty should be at the heart of all development,
But what makes good design bad, good or bad, and what makes it beautiful or not? What makes a project beautiful, whether it's a single building or a large scale infrastructure project, building beauty into places involves more than improving the way things look. Indeed, the word beauty, when associated with a built environment has become quite an emotive subject, reduced all too often to a battle of aesthetics, modern versus traditional. I think we need to work harder to understand what really matters to people place, and of course, the challenge of climate crisis. For me, this means that beauty has also has to also be divine defined by longevity, which is shaped by the power of design to make things work better. So today I want to look at how beauty can be derived from listening directly to what people want and need, how it truly gains meaning when it adds value to people's lived experience and does so for the long term.
My research into beauty and design excellence comes in the form of my own very, uh, comes in the form of my own lived in experience in a career that covers over 25 years of working across design, advocacy, policy making, advisory, knowledge sharing, and generally spreading the message around the power of design to enact positive change. I always get confused when I have to do these fancy pants, um, uh, uh, uh, PowerPoints, but I hope that it, this makes clear to you, um, that my career to date has been shaped by several different roles. The constant, however, has been a personal agenda to build greater awareness on the importance of excellence in design from the scale of individual buildings to national infrastructure projects. And I hope this slide helps to demonstrate the interconnectedness of my work in the role of design, how it touches on each tier of industry and practice. It's also revealing, I think, about, about the power of collaboration, because building beauty into the world takes more than just good design thinking. It's about holistic reflection, but most of all, action. So let's start by freeing ourselves from any preconceptions of what beauty is and try to unpack what, what it means in the contexts of building places and strengthening our urban lives.
To do this, I want to go through six mini chapters around what I've learned around building beauty and longevity into placemaking. The first is about people. People must be kept at the core of our design thinking, especially if we're to develop a built environment that is sustained by sustained by stewardship. The second is about defining what good means, what quality means, and who can help shape that definition. Third, social equity is what our future must be built on and is the ongoing challenge. I think for that, uh, for that, the ongoing challenge that our urban systems have so far struggled to achieve. We'll talk about how we can get to learn to get to the heart of what that means. I'll then talk about progress that grows incrementally in my fourth chapter about designing beyond the red line and thinking in terms of what will bring value in the long term. And this brings me to look at longevity and how design can ensure it's achieved in the pen ultimate chapter. And finally, we'll talk about the foundational aspects of beauty, about the importance of the lived experience and the dignity of the everyday over 25 years ago. Now, I always say that I think it's probably a bit longer than that will give my age away. So let's stick to 25 years ago, I founded an architecture practice with Alex de Reichen, Philip Marsh, and we placed, um, what we termed social usefulness at the heart of everything we designed
For us. What that meant was putting people first and their needs first, no matter what the brief or project we were tackling. And this ethos, I think, was exemplified in a project that we went on to win the R I B A Sterling Prize for, in 2017, the only project to win that can't really be classified as a building, but more as a community space, a piece of living infrastructure, and a long-term venture built on the power of people and their stewardship.
You didn't know I was gonna put a picture up of you, did you, mom? But first, my exposure to what, what it means for urban spaces to prioritize. People came much earlier than Hastings appear as a child. I grew up in an apartment in a community set up by my grandfather at the beginning, um, of the late, it says beginning in the late 1940s, at the beginning of the 19, uh, beginning in the late 1940s, three families collected the equivalent cost of a home. And with the combined money were able to buy a large house, many of which were sold cheaply after the war. The original agreement had one room per person. Families would have apartments but moved around as they increased or decreased in size. Single residents shared bathrooms and kitchens. A nursery was set up to allow single mothers to work, and after some time, a dedicated offices were built so that occupants could work from home.
So if you ever read a book on co-living, I've generally written the forward to it, um, <laugh> because however, I, it always amazes me that however much people think they're thinking about new things, it's nearly always been done before. Um, but living communally taught me very many things, uh, from the value of sharing, uh, to the worth, uh, of both the older and younger generations, as well as the importance of looking after others. I used to come home, uh, when I was six years old from school and look after my great-grandmother who died when she was 111. She was the oldest woman in Great Britain. Uh, not I hasten to say because of my care <laugh>. Um, but I think because she would live was lived in an environment that meant that she was, uh, cared for by a community of people and didn't have to go as many do to care homes and, and, uh, and live their life out there.
But I think as demographics are changing rapidly, we too, we too need to prepare, be, be, be prepared to embrace alternative housing models and be much smarter about the way that we live. We have to rethink our stereotypes, the way in which we live and interact with each other, and the messages that this sends out. Reaching beyond the nuclear family meant providing a support structure that gave more independence to children and parents alike, particularly mothers who wanted to go out to work. Once again, this is about putting people first, understanding what distinct needs have to be met and servicing those needs, even if it means breaking precedent and creating something that redefines what value has conventionally meant.
And this was how we went about designing Hastings peer, which was perhaps the project, as I said before, that best exemplified putting people at the heart of the design process. This project was stalled several times by incidents and parameters beyond our control. Budgetary problems, fires more funding problems, and so on. But throughout the year long journey, the years long journey, seven years, it took us that it took to build, it made, we made our conversation with the Hastings community the most aspect to the design. Our approach was to develop the project with the people of Hastings. Through a series of participatory events and workshops, we discovered a community that was individualistic, and ex and eclectic, I was gonna say eccentric, and it definitely was eccentric as well. But with a proud shared identity embodied in the pier.
Through this creative process, we realized that what the Hastings community actually wanted out of a pier was simply a platform, a serviced platform for several different uses, a flexible space that would reflect the diversity of Hastings. We took that as a cue to build a space that gave importance to rebuilding the structure and making a well service deck, as opposed to making a grand architectural statement. As such, the majority of the grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for that, the project had been bestowed for its regeneration, went towards funding below deck repairs and replacing the deck and Ballas ADEs. We also worked with Hastings and Becks Hill Wood Recycling as part of a local employment initiative to create reclaimed timber deck furniture, giving the community control over the actual production of the Pier's new design. And I think whenever I visit the pier, I'm really struck about how you can almost feel the spirit and the passion of the community that helped to rebuild it. So for us as an architectural practice, Hastings Fear, Hastings peer felt like the culmination of a principle that D R M M have stuck to throughout existence, to prioritize environment and people when making places rather than a personal or vanity driven architectural desire.
So I think this brings us full circle to the idea of having a people first approach to building beauty into the environment. At Hastings, like many of our projects, we weren't looking just as architects, but as orchestrators, helping to consult on needs, define a brief, create a vision that helps communities and clients to achieve often what seems like an impossible dream. The second point I want to discuss is the notion of defining what good is, what value is, and how do we make sure that we continually test those definitions and be prepared to adapt our thinking as we learn more?
I've always fervently believed in the power of collective and collaborative thinking, bringing together the right people to put their skills, talents, and passion to making things better, can't be beaten even when it comes to regen, when it comes to generating holistic value. At the beginning of my design career, I never imagined that I'd be advising on the value of design excellence at government policy level. As a commissioner on the National Infrastructure Commission, I have been given a voice that articulates a different perspective, one that has helped to change the way design is perceived in national development, meaning that it's no longer considered a bolt-on benefit, but part of what will make large scale projects stand the test of time and remain fit for purpose. And for my part, I hope to bring imagination and a human perspective to the heart of government's thinking, to play my part in helping our industry move towards a healthier, happier, and more compassionate and greener for, for philosophy within infrastructure.
An industry that has holistically prioritized time and program, understanding what is meant by good design is still challenging. There are still deep-seated prejudices and preconceptions among clients, planners, and developers around the subject of design, mainly that it's expensive and jeopardizes timely and cost efficient delivery. The National Infrastructure Commission was established in 2017 to provide impartial expert advice on major long-term infrastructure challenges. We carry out in-depth studies into the UK's major infrastructure needs and make recommendations to the government. Our work covers all sectors of e economic infrastructure, and I'm personally proud that during my time on the commission, the National Infrastructure Commission also set up a dedicated design group, which exists to inspire, promote, and champion design excellence in all nationally significant projects. Moreover, in April, 2018, the commission established a 16 strong young professionals panel. After I pointed out that as the youngest commissioner, I would probably be dead in the 30 to 50 years, uh, that we were, uh, setting, uh, our national, uh, strategy for, um, to provide the perspective, the perspective of in, of infrastructure industry professionals at an earlier stage in their careers.
And I have to say, it was an extraordinary thing to do. We had over 500 young people apply, um, for 14 positions. And, um, this is, this is, uh, for something that was advertised on gov.co.uk, which I'm sure, as you may know, is possibly not the place where young people generally go, uh, for their, um, for their job, uh, opportunities. But I think it just went to show the, the, the passion that the next generation have to get involved in policy and to try to, um, help shape a, a future that they can be proud of. And three years later, we achieved consensus at government level that design integrity needs to be at the heart of all national infrastructure. And this is a clear example, I think, of defining good and the effort it takes to rally the right people to do so.
Speaker 1 (00:15:12):
In short, we've been able to move design up the agenda for infrastructure projects, including it within the, including within the first national infrastructure assessment as a cross-cutting theme. The response from government was back, was backing for our recommendation that all major national infrastructure projects should have a board level design champion and be supported by a design panel. We also develop design principles for na, all national infrastructure that, that, that very simply prioritize the right things, climate people, place and value, but it doesn't stop there. Since publishing the principles, we've worked really hard to understand how best to embed them in major projects and organizations. Through identifying and collaborating with others, we have brought together professional institutions to help spread the word, identify the barriers, and dig out the opportunities. And I truly believe that the design process is everybody's responsibility on any major project. Excellent design doesn't just come from designers, even though I'd love to think it did, it doesn't.
Speaker 1 (00:16:22):
It's only possible when everybody working on a project sees design as part of their role, and it has to be continuous, not something that happens at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end. Design thinking needs to be center to stage from day one. And at every step throughout the delivery, it's about people with different talents getting together and finding creative solutions. Understanding the importance of ev involving those people who understand the value of our infrastructure projects in human terms, caring for the climate people in the places they effect. Only then will we truly be able to design for the long term. But it's not just about the physical fabric and infrastructure of places we must consider beauty in longevity. It's also in the cultural, economic, creative, technolo, technological and civic life of places that we need to ensure we are understanding what defines good and how we can build strategies to ensure that it's manifest.
Speaker 1 (00:17:24):
Earlier this year, I was made chair of the NLA Sounding Board, which is part of a network that helps drive the work of the new London art, uh, uh, new London, um, center to inform policy and pro and produce through leadership. As such, the board is responsible for helping to shape the new London agenda, a multi-year project that sets a vision for the future of London and its built environment, presenting the top issues that need to be tackled over the next London political term, and the best new ideas and solutions that we will deliver New Lu that will deliver for for New London, the new London of the future. To do this, the new London agenda is being composed by a panel of 29 members, each of whom embody the talent fortitude that London as a city so wholly represents.
Speaker 1 (00:18:20):
Together we have identified three main pillars that the agenda will need to rest on if it's to steer London's future into the direction of what we define as good. These are collective responsibility, clarity, and trust. Collective responsibility links to how the built environment and the people who shape it has a critical role to play in shaping London as lives and how that formation should be structured around a common purpose and defining place as catalyst to improve living. Clarity is about transparency and agreement on how the city needs to grow growing forward, highlighting the true scale and shape of the challenge. This means outlining that it needs to be about creating equity both economically and socially. And while doing that, ensuring that we have planetary justice and we stimulate reinvention. Finally, trust is about becoming experts on what people need and what, and with and with that, making people feel ownership over London's investment and development. In order to reach these pillars and carve out the detailed agenda for London, the n a sounding board has and will work to a set of focused areas that each support the building of a more beautiful and robust life. For city. This is about being specific in our definition of what good is, and again, coming back to how people experience urban living and what brings value and quality to their lives.
Speaker 1 (00:19:55):
So far, the experience chairing their sounding boards have revealed a clear focus on equity. In the case of the LA gender, it's about understanding how the capital, um, those who shape it can continue to define what equity looks like for the city. As placemakers, our priorize, our priorities to decarbonize, digitize, and respond to profound inequalities in health and inequity. Disparities have bought up a new challenge. How do we find out what a balanced, fair, and nurturing built environment looks and feels like in 2018? With the support of the late Tony Pidgley of the Barky Group, we set up the Quality of Life Foundation, our aim to understand how people's lived experience of their built environment could improve their quality of life. The foundation does this by helping to make wellbeing central to the way we create and care for our homes and communities. Active, participatory, and people led research is a big part of how we implement our goal. So going back to chapter one, people first,
Speaker 1 (00:21:10):
When we first launched, we began by using our nationwide research to publish a framework of quality of life principles that could be applied to all scales of placemaking. The principles are a practical guide to help ensure that both urban and rural living is defined by wellbeing. The foundation maintains that excellence in design is achieved not just through the aesthetics or physical interventions, but when designers and place makers find solutions that respond to both universal problems that affect people indiscriminately and distinct problems such as accessibility. The key to our research is knowing where to look and who to ask to find out what these prevailing problems are in a snapshot. This is our remit, aside from drawing knowledge from experts to define what good and what will promote wellbeing in the Brit environment, we also conduct ongoing research and people facing surveys around what it means to communities. The foundation then builds and shares our evidence base to show how the housing system should focus on people's long-term health and wellbeing. We also support local authorities, developers, and housing associations to implement best practice.
Speaker 1 (00:22:29):
These are the principles of our Quality of life framework. The framework brings together all of the foundation's work to date into six overriding themes. Control. That means people have control a, around the decisions that are being made about their built environment. They have influence, they feel safe in their envi environment, and there is a sense of permanence about where they live health. And that talks about the housing, the importance of making our homes great places to be in, not to have mold dripping down the ceiling or down the walls. It's about air quality. It's about the, it's about the air that our children and we breathe. And it's about recreation and encouraging and making sure that we have places that we can keep ourselves healthy in. It's about nature, it's about ensuring that everybody has access to nature, that our na the nature is not only biodiverse, but is, is give something back to our communities.
Speaker 1 (00:23:31):
And it's also about the environment wonder. It's about culture. It's about distinctiveness and it's about playfulness. And I don't just mean for children. It's important that we all really enjoy ourselves and have some fun. That really does add to our quality of life and freedom of movement. And that's about making sure that our environments are well connected to public transport, that we are, uh, actively promoting walking and cycling, and that when we do need to use a car, we have to think carefully about how we do that. And finally, community something, as you might understand, is really close to my heart. This is about diversity, it's about opportunity, and it's about making sure that we have everything that we need close to our homes. Because of the future of cities and towns is all about the future of people. The foundation believes that every strategic design or planning decision made in urban places must be made with people's progression, autonomy, and wellbeing in mind. We have steered processes of neighborhood by design, where communities have an active hand in the ways their environment is shaped. Perhaps our biggest effort to date is interrogating how we can achieve social equity in the way we build places. Has been our work on the community consultation for quality of life. Research project
aims at developing a new map-based model of community consultation that takes place both online and face-to-face in community spaces. And this means it brings about a tangible way to derive knowledge from end users, from people to better define what makes places good, beautiful, and what makes them so for the long term.
One of our studies centered around Harlow and Gilson, a garden town, which has been earmarked to deliver over 16,000 new homes by 2033, and a further 7,000 planned for the Gilson area to be built from 2033 onwards. And we've worked with Harlow and Gilson, um, garden Town to map map out what local people value and need in their local area through a public digital consultation. And this study was really comprehensive and detailed, revealing exactly what equity looks like in this distinct city and helping to build a root map towards how it can be achieved by overlaying socioeconomic data, we are also able to map the social value outcomes of any built environment. Interventions over time, a rich source of intelligence that will help better shape cities in order to maximize wider benefits for the communities that they serve. The experience of our built environment, I think speaks to our national identity. It says something about who we are and what we're good at those, those of us who are responsible for designing our built environment and the places which we live, work, and play, and how our national infrastructure supports that have a huge responsibility to think about the legacy we are leaving behind. And legacy building at national levels is essential if people are to be emotionally invested in places. And it applies to development on a country-wide scale.
One of my roles as the independent chair, as chair of the independent, I keep saying independent as the chair of the independent design panel for high speed two. For the last seven years working for the Secretary of State, the panel has acted as a critical friend to the project, helping to make sure that the designs adhere to the design vision. There have been many good examples of how positive challenge can improve the outcome, one of which has been a cultural shift around thinking beyond the red line manifest in the setting up of an urban integration team whose work on both urban and rural integration has helped to encourage the use of diverse teams and more strategic thinking that looks to have long-term impact rather than short, quick, uh, short, quick fix solutions. By focusing on the surrounding environment, there is more opportunity to design beauty and longevity into infrastructure beyond its primary or central function.
An example is the Old Oak Common Station, which will be a new transport hub in West London and will play an important role in the regeneration of the area around it. A key part of the proposals is a new public park, a green space, which will welcome visitors and provide a new focal point for the growing community. The multidisciplinary design team of the Cone Valley Western Slopes will transform what it now has, what what is now an HS two construction site into one of the largest areas, 90 hectares of new chalk gra grassland in the Chilton Hills. The grassland habitat is, is of international conservation importance and will be created using nutrient po sub soils on the site. Mixing these with chalk from tunneling, recycle concrete and aggregates from the construction works the outcome of a rigorous design process that includes architects, engineers, landscape designers, and specialists in biodiversity and agronomics.
Finally, HS two s. Maple Cross is a prime example of legacy building. An artist design play area in Maple Cross School was created from soil excavated from HS two s Chilton tunnels. The HS two s Art and Culture team encouraged to be set up by the design panel commissioned artists and landscape designers, designer Emily Crompton, to work with the pupils and develop des develop a design for a new play area that not only helped them to connect with the area's natural beauty, but also how they could have a role in shaping it. And if we want to look at infrastructure urban design project that has truly impacted in regeneration and building beauty beyond its red line, we just need to travel to King's Cross in London, where the new station has become a fulcrum for radiating phases of improvement in the King's cross area within the region of the station.
King's Cross Central has become a significant residential development, and the home base of one of the largest urban regeneration projects in Europe is designed fosters, neighbourliness and maximizes personal space inside and public space outside DMS building Art House became one of the first phase, first phases of the housing blocks within the regeneration. And our design put forward apartments at a principally jewel aspect with big views to king's cross the region's canal and its environments. We made sure all apartments had full height glaze facades, which maximized the views and feelings of space and light. The for sale had the exact same specification as the affordable or the ENT or with a sense of identity and a canal side address. An example I think of how the power of design excellence, both at macro and micro levels has led to an exemplar regeneration project in the uk.
The scale of this re regeneration has since expanded throughout Summers town in the form of Camden's ambitious community investment program, the program that will deliver affordable housing, community facilities, a primary school and private housing within a redefined public open space. Dem has designed broad place a human scale tower that will provide affordable housing through the delivery and sale of private ownership apartments. This ambitious brief demanded the smallest possible building footprint whilst maximizing value within a highly constrained Sun Central Lo London location, helping to find ways to build equity at the same time ensure the city can survive for the long term.
I think it's all very well insisting on good design, but ensuring that it's embedded within the project from the outset and fed through the procurement of the supply chain is something else. Part of the process of ensuring design quality and beauty is to make sure expectations are clearly set out from the concept through to delivery. And I think this can be really hard when you're, when you're doing so through written specifications, open to interpretation and lowest common denominator mentality. The question of how we can better articulate our design expectations in a way that is inspirational yet affordable was something that we tackled early on in the design review process. Building on the importance of what it takes to define what good, what's good, what can promote beauty and function and what can harbor longevity. We chose to describe what we believe to be good design by way of a process of testing and demonstration. So we managed to convince high speed two to instead of just saying we want good design. And so transferring that responsibility to contractors without unpacking actually what it meant. The HS two project for Cone Valley Viaduct looked for a way to develop a language of demonstration
High speed Two, employed an architect Mike, uh, Martin Knight Architects to design the Cone Valley viaduct to a given budget, working closely with the local community to envision a solution that was led by high quality representative design. We called it a specimen design, an exercise to showcase what the art of the possible was and to lead stakeholder consultation between HS two and the multiple statutory and public bodies with interest in the project to ensure that the lowest common denominator was not the outcome achieved. So the difference between the two, I hope you can see, and I'd like to say that the proof is in that proverbial pudding with the Cone Valley. Now under construction, hailed as an extraordinary feat of engineering and architecture designed to enable views across a beautiful part of our British countryside. In other words, it's about breaking down the language of design and showing how it could work to create places with identity without spending more money than meet than meeting the status quo. HS two's urban design and integration work, including the range of urban and context and context. INSTI integration studies is a great way I think, of helping to identify and unlock the wider benefits of the project, supporting collaborative conversations with planning authorities, stakeholders and communities, and providing context to decisions and helping to secure a positive legacy for HS two.
I want to end this talk on a note of positivity, the kind of positivity that's brought through hope, humanity, and finding beauty in places where it might feel hard to find. The fis philosophy of the Magus centers really brings together all of the points that we've gone through this evening. It's about starting with people, understanding what's good and what's valuable to them, and then using design to make sure that value lasts in the long term. It's also about legacy, about carving out an approach and a, and a worldview that some may have found radical to begin with, but which has proven to bring out joy and grace and which has proved to bring joy and grace to people's lives.
Maggie's offer free, practical and emotional support for people affected by cancer. And when they approached DMM to design the center in Oldham, it was a real honor. It it's like being awarded the, uh, uh, a, uh, an Oscar getting this commission because it's a commission. I think that felt totally in step with the way that we have worked and in tune with our ethos and beliefs. We made sure we knew everything we needed to know about the history of the centers, going beyond peripheral research to make sure we understood the philosophy behind the architecture of hope. Expressing that philosophy through a buil, through a building meant combining our pioneering research into timber architecture with the ideas of a people-centered healing environment. For us, the use of structural timber was an obvious choice for all its environmental, tactile, and construction benefits. So, so we went about designing what beauty and hope would look like as a timber building. The briefer mags was for us to design a safe and welcoming space, an unins institutional building, morkin to a house. Visitors were, were to feel encouraged and not daunted supported on slender columns. The building floats above a garden framed by pine, birch and Chile pop, popular tree, popular trees
On entering the visitor is met within a, with a space light and unexpected views down to the garden below and up to the sky and out to the pennines. The building is arranged with a pen nine horizon view to the north and the kitchen and the terrace to the south. And from a central oasis, a tree grows up through the building, bringing inside a conversation between landscape and architecture, a space for gathering strength and celebrating being alive for however long that might be. The plan is free flowing, but arch arch articulated to give privacy for each of the many overlapping issues and uses and activities that patients undergo throughout the day and as part of their care. Maggie Zem is the first permanent building constructed from tulip wood. Tulip wood, cross laminated timber. Timber has proven health benefits, but it's not only the reason it works here, it works because it's straightforward, familiar, recognizable beauty. There is nothing confusing about whether timber is beautiful or not. So in conclusion, building beauty and longevity into places is about turning to solutions that work, that are proven and are based on clarity and simplicity. It's about holistic learning, reflection, and action. And to do this, we must ensure that we are listening, we are collaborating meaningfully, and we're always considering the world's depleting resources.
I believe beauty comes from within that there is beauty in simplicity at all scales, and there is simplicity in the formula for good design. It's just about responding to people's needs, desires, and the aspirations that unite us. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Sadie. I mean, it's, it's an extremely convincing argument to that, um, the beauty and strength of design, but I suspect you have to be a particularly patient sort of person to work with all of those organizations which are inherently either conservative or against you. And some of the things you talk about in, in nudging these big development projects forward must drive you crazy, uh, uh, uh, during, for example, the bonfire of regulations, which seems so important to make some of this work.
Um, I think you're, I think you're quite right and, and I have always been a patient person. I think you have to look to the long term. You have to kind of believe in what you are doing and that the outcome will be transformational or at least better. Um, you know, when I started I was like, we can, I can change the world. And now I think, well, actually, I can just hopefully make it
A little bit better.
Um, and I genuinely think that, you know, good design people, you know, good design, thinking about the way we live and work and enjoy our built environment, um, really does, uh, not only improve your quality of life as, you know, one of the reasons for setting up the quality of life foundation, um, but also I think, um, allows a really amazing life. And, you know, I look back at my own childhood and, you know, I did joke earlier about my great-grandmother, but there's something in, you know, making a community or sharing your, um, being, being in an environment where you're able to share and care for others, um, in a very positive way that I think is about the long term. So for me, I've always, I've always been, I've always got the, it's always the long term that I'm seeing rather than the short.
A question at the back,
Uh, one of your slides that had six points ending in belonging, it almost sounded like a recipe for those, uh, 15 minute cities that we hear so much about these days. Is that something you recognize? Is it something you agree with?
I think, I mean, my sense is you put a, you can put a label around anything and, uh, you know, the 15 minute city is, is a, is a notion about yes, you're right. Having all of those things, um, within, you know, within 15 minutes <laugh>. And, um, my sense is, is that it's, um, I I, I don't necessarily buy into the kind of 15 minutes I buy into the fact that we need to have diversity. We need to make sure that we have, um, the services around us that we need, um, in order to be able to live, you know, and not travel too far. Um, so I think that, um, you are quite right around the, the kind of ingredients for a great, for a great place. Um, but whether or not you have to define it within a kind of 15 minute city, I try not to sort of fall into those traps.
Uh, yes. Hello? Um, I just wanted to ask you about HS two. Yeah. Um, we all heard about obviously the opposition, uh, to, for example, destruction of ancient woodland. Yeah. Um, and also whether it was cost effective. Were you involved in those sorts of discussions and, and how, how were they resolved?
I've always taken, I mean, I fully understand that, you know, there's a lot of different views around whether or not HST should happen. I've always taken the view that, um, as the independent design chair, I, uh, with a group of the, the panel that I've brought together, we, we try to help HS two to get to be, to be as good as it can be. So I think that without getting into the kind of politics of good or bad, it's more, for me, it's more about how, you know, HS two is being built. So as a designer, I feel like I have responsibility to try to make sure it's done so, you know, as well, uh, of the highest quality of the highest sustainability. Um, and, and so acting as a critical friend to big projects such as HS two, I think has made a huge difference to the outcome.
And so my sense is, is that if we can, if we can do the same with our other major project, uh, our other major projects, which is why we've put together the design principles and we're encouraging all projects, all national infrastructure projects to think about these things, then hopefully we will be delivering infrastructure that is fit for the future. Um, because, you know, we are gonna be building a lot of it, I think, in the next, you know, over the next five or 10 years. And we can, you know, that's, that, that's a kind of government level argument. Um, what I'm interested in is to, is to try to ensure that when we are delivering our infrastructure, that it is, um, you know, thoughtful of our environment. It, it, it, look, you know, it's intuitive, it works for people, it's respective of, of our environment and it, and it's properly, um, and we think about the value that it can, that it can offer. And that is about, um, I think looking beyond the red line of, of big infrastructure projects and seeing how we can, um, extract best value from the, you know, from the investment.
Thank you very much. I think your template is absolutely wonderful. Yeah. I'm slightly perturb though that you say, you know, we'd like to encourage people to, to take up this, this fantastic series of ideas. Um, but I would like to go beyond encouragement to some kind of enforcement and policing because I mean, too much is built that just doesn't bear any of this in mind. I, I dunno quite what influence you have beyond the encouragement front.
I think it's a, um, it's a really good question. You know, how do you, um, ensure all our built environment is, you know, covers all of those things and, uh, that we see as, as the key ingredients to, to making places, making places where people wanna live and improve their quality of life. Um, my experience, <laugh> is, has taught me that perhaps, um, encouraging and showing best practice is, is a kind of easier way. You talked about frustration earlier. I think that if you try, we are trying to change policy, ultimately that is our goal. Um, but if that's, if you go, if you start with that as your, uh, sort of raise on Detra, I think that you can easily fall foul. Uh, because as you know, governments change, secretary of states change, you know, government is not always as stable as one wants it to be.
So I've always taken the view that if you can show, uh, if you can, um, show through best practice and through example, then, uh, and create something that has momentum, you know, quality of life Foundation now has real momentum. We've doing nationwide research pieces. We've got incredible support from the National lottery community funds from, uh, UK innovation funds. You know, we, we are, we are doing some really, really interesting staff. And I think that if we, if we can put that out there, we can encourage developers, local authorities to use the framework, many of which are, are now doing. So then hopefully that will show, um, uh, you know, central government that actually there is an interesting way of doing things. And, and my sense is, is that if you, although the argument is developers will often do the absolute minimum, I think there is an understanding that people's values are changing and that actually, if you want to progress and, and, uh, and be competitive, you have to think about creating places that are properly sustainable and for the long term. So those developers who tend to be picking up on the proposals and working with the charity and the foundation are those who understand the value of doing so. And one hopes that that would encourage others. I'm a carrot girl rather than a stick. I, I always have beam. So, let's see, let's see.
There's a boundary between infrastructure and the built environment, which is quite interesting. Yes. So if you, I mean, you, you've talked about infrastructure, but if you travel around this country and look at, I'll use the word housing developments. Yes. There's an an appalling amount of uniformity. They're often built to, not a design, but a plan. Yes. And they are clearly built around a profit margin. Yes. They all look the same, and they often don't have the services that your equation would ask for. Yeah. How do you overcome that, that, I suppose it's a profit drive motive and feed into it, this design system which is gonna make those as states, which must be part of the infrastructure in some way livable in, in a new, in the new world that you describe?
Um, the ah, yeah, I mean, it, it, I mean the reason for setting up the foundation was the kind of, uh, you know, the urban sprawl that we are, you know, you describe, which is, you know, really thoughtless developments outside only on the edges of city. They're not, they're not properly, uh, connected into, uh, uh, you know, into roads. There's, there's, you know, there's no social infrastructure that goes with them. Um, it is, it is an, it is an issue. And I think that it's one that we have to, um, address by, through changes to planning, um, through, um, thinking hard about how to encourage, uh, developments to do better. And that there is, you know, there, what we need is a, is a set of, um, uh, we need a set of regulations that are easy and understandable when it comes to particularly environmental issues.
So I think that will, you know, that's already making change, building, um, uh, uh, the future standards, hope for homes and so forth. Um, but the regulatory environment is one that is, um, has to be consistent in order for it to work. And I think one of the things that the building industry struggles with is that there's not always that level of consistency. So if you are, if you want to do better, you are not always competitive because you are, you are not, the, the playing field isn't, uh, isn't equal. So I think there's a lot of work to be done, and I hope that the framework goes somewhere to helping and encouraging that to happen.
Yep. And then, then we come up here into the
Middle. Thank you very much. Uh, in an industry that is typically very quantifiable in how it measures value, how do you measure the value of design and how do you, uh, ensure you're meeting that value throughout the lifespan of the infrastructure?
That's a, that's a really good question. I mean, try, you know, we've been doing a lot of work around, you know, social value, those, you know, what are the added benefits? And it is incredibly difficult because it's not, you know, um, you have the social value toolkit, which is, can be quite transactional. You know, the minute you try to turn something that isn't really, um, you know, into sort of pounds and pence, it becomes very transactional. And so how do we capture the lived experience That's something that we're trying to do at the foundation? How do you make sure that you are valuing that, the valuing the things that matter to people? And how do you then show that this is, um, this adds value over time? One of the things that we've been doing is a lot of post-oc occupancy evaluation around the principles.
And this has been really helpful because we go back to communities and we, you know, we ask them how, uh, their, the environment has affected their quality of life around these, around these principles. And we've, you know, we've only been up and running three years, so we are looking at, developments have obviously been around longer than we have as a, as a charity, but, um, we are already seeing, um, uh, the, the feedback from, from those, um, uh, from those, uh, improving the next kind of iterative, um, process of, uh, developing. And that's because the answers that come back aren't always the ones that you expect. And, um, uh, and so gathering that evidence gathering, gathering that data, and we have a huge opportunity now, I think, to have a data rich, um, environment where we are able to show what good looks like and help benchmark that.
One of the things that the, uh, community consultation work that we've been doing, uh, with, uh, Floris Animals is running that from Redding University, as I said, Belfast, Elster, and Cardiff is to, um, actually benchmark good quality, uh, good, uh, benchmark, um, what good community consultation looks like. So I think it's benchmarking, making sure there's a sort of standard that everybody can understand and then testing it over time. Unless we understand over time what improvements are made, we can overlay socioeconomic data, we can start to see actually if people's lives improve. Um, not only through qualitative but quantitative data. Let's go to your
Question. Thank you. Um, I just sort of wanted to second on from what you've just said about infrastructure and then the built environment. Um, I'm a water engineer, so it's, I, I work in clean water, wastewater, flooding. Um, so a lot of the work that we do is kind of very much involved in sort of how we make our built environment work and how we sort of use our resources in a particular way. But I think a lot of what, and I'm very early in my career, but, um, a lot of the work that sort of I've found is more just about the acc, the accountability and sort of what I can do as my role as a water engineer and sort of my kind of responsibility to design good quality water infrastructure. But then you're working in a big sort of legisla, lots of legislation, lots of big frameworks, and sort of how does that work with privatization and profit and when we are building and designing public infrastructure for people to live and work in and to enjoy, but where does that kind of accountability come in when sort of profit comes above people?
I think if you, I mean, I'll answer one of your questions I suppose, which is, is, you know, what can I do, you know, um, as an, as an engineer, and I'd just like to go back, I suppose to one of the points that I was trying to make earlier, which is that design is everybody's responsibility. And one of the reasons for putting together the design principles for national infrastructure was in order to help do that. So it's, it, it looks at climate people place in value and it's a, it's a kind of practical, I love, I'm just like, how do we, everyone talks about doing things and how do you actually put in place practical ways of helping people to do it? Well, the design principles are one of those ways that we think that we can encourage all of those projects, all of the big infrastructure projects to think about, um, all of those things, but value rather than, as you say, profit and and cost.
So how do we think about our infrastructure in a way that isn't so transactional, as I said before, isn't a business case that is about how quickly and, and how much, but actually how much over the long term, what are the, what is the value, uh, that you are, um, uh, the, that the investment will make, um, over time? And I, and I think that if we, if, if you as an engineer think, well actually I am partly responsible for the design of what I'm doing, um, and you use the download and use the infrastructure principles, um, I think that it's a really good way of helping you and, and those around you to think, you know, to be able to sort of embed those, um, uh, within, you know, big and major infrastructure projects.
Who have I missed out? You said this will be the last question, I'm afraid.
Okay. I'll try not to make it too difficult for you, but, uh, else, um, I agree with you totally about design and I think there's value in design and I think for the benefit, the future generations, it's great. And another thing that is important, which you did mention was diverse communities. Yes. At the moment we have a, a system for del delivery of housing that is almost privatized. Um, the private companies that produce dwellings at the moment work are on a basis of legislation that comes with planning, which talks about affordable housing, which is the term you used as well, and I'm not sure how you used it, but their meaning of affordable housing is 20% below market rate, which to most people living in that community is in affordable. They can't either they have to extend themselves financially and get into trouble, or they just turn the offer down and the developer says, see, I can't sell these.
I need to sell it to somebody who can afford it. So in effect, legislation is creating more exclusivity rather than diversity. And I wondered how any of the bodies, cuz you're on a number of advisory bodies, talks to government to see how this could be rectified because I think social housing is what they call it now, is important. I've worked on mixed schemes where we've had social and private housing and I was amazed to find that the space standards in social housing are larger than the ones that the developer wants in private housing. So it seems that though there are rules in place, they are quite mixed up. And I think it, it's incumbent on people like yourself and various advisory bodies to try and get this message over. Cuz in time it's just gonna get impossible to change.
Well, I mean, I I couldn't agree more that we need more and better social housing. I mean, we, you know, my daughter in the front there, she's, you know, case in point, um, uh, you know, how do we, how do we, uh, move to a, you know, mo move to a place where we, we have, um, the quantity and the quality of housing that is, is truly affordable. And, um, and I think the answer is yes, I spend a lot of my time, uh, trying to encourage and make sure that we are thinking around how we can make that happen with a proper, um, public and private kind of relationship. But one that is based on, I think, um, a very clear, uh, direction from, uh, from government about what, what is important and how, how do we deliver that? And there are big challenges. There are big challenges, um, around how do we, you know, design and build fu future homes that are sustainable, that are, you know, that are the, the right size in the right places and, um, that are, you know, that are affordable. So the answer is yes, I spend a lot of my time, uh, making, uh, what, what, uh, I think the, the very well made point that you did.
I'm gonna stop you. I'm terribly sorry we've run outta time, but thank you so much for all your questions, Sadie, thank you for a fantastic lecture. Um, very convincing arguments about the importance of beauty, uh, in, in our built environment. And please would you thank Professor Sadie Morgan