Design Quality; A Golden Thread

Design Quality; A Golden Thread

Quality in design is an elusive and subjective feature when applied to the built environment. However, there is a golden thread that connects one of the earliest attempts to codify quality to one of the most recent.

Vitruvius, a Roman ‘architect’ writing in the 1st century BC talked about good buildings having qualities of ‘firmness, commodity and delight’ while in 2002 CABE’s Building for Life design tool considered that a quality building displays ‘attractiveness, functionality and sustainability’. It would seem a good guide to the characteristics of a quality building but it doesn’t tell us much about how to achieve quality in design.

We mention Building for Life since its project review format, which we have used many times, has been helpful in pointing the way to how far quality in design can be codified. Taking this as a guide calfordseaden attaches maximum value to establishing the brief and then regularly challenging it to ensure that it is robust and relevant. We encourage the earliest practical engagement of all project stakeholders, have regular reviews with them and request prompt information from site surveys and investigations. This forms a sound basis from which the design can develop since the best design must make a positive out of each key constraint.

After that a quality design not only makes a virtue out of each constraint but maximises the possibilities offered by the brief, site and context – something that can only be achieved by the client and design team looking beyond functional requirements and taking the time to develop, challenge and refine the emerging concepts.

This is what happened in the case of St Nicholas Church site in Perivale. The design was developed with the active involvement of ASRA, the church, the diocese and its advisors, the community and the planners. The breakthough moment came when calfordseaden suggested the site was becoming congested and could be transformed if we could relocate the required flats to above the otherwise single storey church. Even though this ran contrary to every natural instinct of the church and diocese they were enthusiastic about the scheme which opened up the site and unlocked progress on a project that had been in a state of hiatus for 15 years.

Similarly, while the brief heralded welcoming the community to use the building, the early designs showed a relatively conventional space for the main church area. It seemed appropriate that not only should it be a space flexible in use but openness to the community suggested a transparent architectural form – a concept enthusiastically embraced by all parties.

William Cornall, Group Director of Development & Commercial Asra Housing Group had this to say about the project:

“Asra have been delighted with the architectural service provided by calfordseaden on our St Nicholas Church redevelopment project in Perivale. It is our second successful collaboration with them on church redevelopments, and again, the final product has more than met our aspirations. This redevelopment is really unique, offering 17 beautiful affordable homes for local people, a new vicarage and a fantastic church community facility too. Projects like this require vision, perseverance and patience from all our professional team and calfordseaden has been an excellent partner throughout.”

For more information, please contact our Head of Design, John Spence, on 01689 888222 or jspence@calfordseaden.com