An exclusive second excerpt from 'Design to Value: The architecture of holistic design and creative technology' book by Mark Bryden, Professor John Dyson, Jaimie Johnston MBE and Martin Wood. Published by RIBA Books.

How Can Value be Reinstated in the Built Environment?

Central to Design to Value is the creation of blended, collaborative teams. And key to their success is that everyone on these teams, no matter how big or small their role, has a fundamental understanding of and input into the aims and vision of the project.

Of course, emerging from more specialised disciplines means that it can take some time for people to feel comfortable collaborating on a deep level. In a good Design to Value system, everybody’s contribution is valuable, no matter what their role. Leadership and facilitation here are key. In Design to Value, all elements of the project stay in play. Collaborative teams question the value drivers as they go along and they even question the problem statement. Sometimes problem statements can be rewritten – part way through a project, answers might be found but the team may determine they are insufficient, and perhaps the very question they are answering needs reframing. Everything has to be fluid. This approach means that the architect or engineer does not simply design or build a structure; they become part of the business, seeking to solve a problem or open up new ways of working. 


In one instance, Bryden Wood were asked to design a factory. They observed that workers had to wear heavy personal protective equipment (PPE) to enter a certain room. They asked themselves, ‘What if we imagined a scenario in which we didn’t need the chemical that makes the PPE necessary?’ Although it was beyond the scope of construction, they realised that wearing PPE for eight hours a day is hot and difficult, uncomfortable and inefficient, at odds with the values of the enterprise. In the end everyone agreed that it would be ideal to eliminate the hazardous chemical. This focus on the workers’ experience typifies the comprehensive and multifaceted approach of Design to Value. Conversing and collaborating to the point where imagination expands is the work of Design to Value.

The process must be evolutionary – you have to have conversations and see where they take you. This stands in stark contrast to the way most firms operate today with a set process and series of protocols, and a very clear agreement on stage gates and deliverables. In Design to Value, design phases are described by broad questions documented into the problem statement and value drivers. For example, the problem statement might ask: ‘Can the problem be solved and significant value created in a financially viable way?’ The specific design work and deliverables would then be focused purely on answering the question at hand, which means that some areas of analysis and design would be progressed well beyond historical stage-gate levels, whereas others might not be progressed at all.

And these conversations often return to asking the why question. Asking questions over and over creates opportunities to move between sectors. For example, if a firm that knew almost nothing about water infrastructure was asked to build a wastewater treatment plant, their success – the project’s success – would be a matter of abstracting processes, thinking systematically and schematically, and asking questions – not accepting the status quo. The client might say that they would have to dig a large hole in the ground. When asked why, the client might typically respond, ‘When working with water you always do that’. But ask again. The answer would likely again be, ‘Well, because that’s what the book says’. Asking why repeatedly moves the conversation and enables both parties to imagine other scenarios; not burying the facility underground and instead building it above ground, for instance. This persistent question-asking can unlock the project, opening it up to a previously unthought of solution. Stripping away previous knowledge, questioning potentially inefficient systems and modalities, is what is needed to allow these kinds of conversations to take place.

This is the challenge to traditional design processes, which can be quite turgid and passive: a brief is stated and a firm contends with whether they can deliver the predefined needs of the client. Interrogating the brief is not part of the process.

Elevating and liberating the brief into a problem statement is an essential part of the work and the design process of Design to Value. Collaborating to establish a set of working methods, goals and value drivers creates clarity of purpose from the start. It creates opportunity. 

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