The design of the built environment directly affects all of us, every day but, until recently, the influence of architecture on people’s lives has generally been excluded from the metrics used to appraise and commission our surroundings. The increasing prominence of ‘social value’ as a key objective in project briefs over the last decade suggests a growing awareness from clients and policymakers; that social value in construction, social sustainability in architecture, and the design quality of the built environment impacts us all, for better or worse.

The difficulties in articulating and quantifying the essence of good design and its wider benefits to society have meant that design is often undervalued, both in the procurement of new development and in the planning decision-making process. As a result, large urban developments often fail to meet the aspirations of policymakers. Architects have also been reluctant to focus conversations on the economic merits of their schemes, or the political issues behind them, instead focusing their descriptions and appraisals of work in mainly aesthetic terms. This has meant the discussion misses key challenges regarding what schemes are providing, or lacking, in terms of the economic and social value in architecture. 

Part of the difficulty in embedding this design quality throughout the design process may be a result of the fragmentation of projects into stages, and the atomisation of roles in recent decades. Individuals are often responsible only for small chunks of the process and wider design, with little collaboration between parties. It is therefore important to look at how to bridge these gaps across disciplines.

Churchwood Gardens, Forest Hill, South East London. Architecture by Bryden Wood.

The ‘triple bottom line’ of sustainability

In the early 1980s, the theorist Freer Spreckley first identified the concept that sustainable development could be realised through identifying and balancing environmental and social outcomes against economic benefits. This ‘triple bottom line’ of sustainability, as it is now known, underpins the corporate policy of organisations around the world.

To enable clarity on the desired outcomes of design, design value can be separated into a series of value types. The ‘triple bottom line’, as identified by Carmona et al., is a sum of environmental, economic, and social values, and is one of the most used methods of grouping value types in governmental strategies, such as HM Treasury’s Green Book (UKGov, 2018) guidance; the means by which the UK government assesses cost benefits in appraisal and evaluation processes. 

While there is a growing variety of measures used to assess the environmental impact of projects (such as embodied carbon and operational energy), and economic value is frequently used as the central justification of projects, there is no agreed metric for assessing social value in architecture and in the impact of projects.

Social value in the UK: establishing benefits of good design  

The social impact of developments on communities and the way they are designed are gaining traction as key metrics in UK government policy. Although not specifically intended to apply to the design of buildings and places, the Social Value Act (Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012) requires those who commission services to consider how wider social, economic, and environmental benefits can be secured, indicating an increased recognition of the importance of social value in the UK

RIBA has recently published the Social Value Toolkit for Architecture, developed in partnership between the University of Reading and the London-based Research Practice Leads, as an attempt to establish a common methodology for measuring the monetisation of social value through calculating the social return on investment. This is intended as a starting point for use by practitioners in the industry to understand and embed social value in architectural practice. A central recommendation is an attempt to increase the prevalence of post-occupancy evaluations conducted by architects, to enable mapping of intangible impacts such as social value. The current, alarming, lack of collection by architects of real-life data on the impact of their schemes suggests that this societal feedback loop is not necessarily being designed into future schemes.

Within a wider context, the construction industry itself is fundamental to the implementation of these social values. It is central to the delivery of places in which people live, work and socialise, in addition to the connections between these places and communities. Measured in the UK, the construction sector is the sixth largest in terms of employment and is responsible for over 12% of the UK’s 5.9m small and medium-sized enterprises. Although already one of the leading industries for numbers of apprenticeships, greater emphasis must be placed on diversification of the workforce and Modern Methods of Construction (MMC). Doing so will help us to deliver the projects of the future and further increase social value in construction. 

The considerable increase in focus within the industry on the sustainable design, construction and use of buildings in recent decades suggests there is an appetite and ability to overlay additional value criteria onto the commissioning and appraisal of architectural schemes. Bryden Wood’s principle of Design to Value and the promotion of DfMA looks to bridge this gap, as the construction industry transitions to MMC. As well as this, our focus on data and metrics sets us aside from traditional practices. We are well versed in using this data to evaluate, improve and continuously review our projects. Data, briefing and lessons learnt lead our design process, and set metrics and tangible outcomes to assess.

Flora Samuel and Eli Hatleskog’s collection of global stories published in Architectural Design outlines the opportunities available for the architectural profession in mapping and measuring the realisation of social capital through architectural design. Although it is difficult to clearly articulate an agreed definition of social value, Samuel and Hatleskog have posited five key overlapping dimensions: 

  • jobs and apprenticeships
  • wellbeing generated by design
  • learning developed through construction
  • designing with the community
  • building with local materials. 

Aside from the self-evident importance of composing buildings that are good for people, the economy and the planet, there is a practical benefit in defining and charting quantitively the social value our built environment can provide.

Architecture and Design Workflow, Circle Reading Hospital

Design to Value

The multifaceted concept of social value, including social sustainability in architecture, is something Bryden Wood project teams aim to consider at every stage; the most value to the end user and community, the most sustainable solution, the optimum solution for the problem statement. Each project is unique in what will make up its social value, and where emphasis should be placed for the greatest benefit to the wellbeing of the users, the outcome of the project and to individuals’ lives.

Often in our projects, our view on social value in architecture considers not only the use and outcome of the building, but also aspects beyond the initial value of a new built environment. We look at what makes up that environment, how it’s constructed, and its ability to be reused and adapted over time. We consider the whole lifecycle of the scheme and always aim to maximise social value in construction. 

Our Design to Value approach to projects allows us to consider social value in every aspect of the new asset. We analyse and understand the requirements of every project to investigate how the components of the building meet the correct criteria, be that its location, the process it needs to provide for, or the wellbeing of the users. We maximise the value of the asset by balancing a wide range of criteria. 

Design to Value may lead to a solution that is very different to the one initially conceived, but it will be a solution that is fully thought through, appropriate and complete; a built asset that delivers value across the piece. This leads to wide-ranging benefits: cost-savings, increases in speed, quality and safety, and the creation of more sustainable buildings with projects delivering greater social value.  

Social value in architecture, focusing on process

In 2019, our project with GSK in Parma, Italy, won a ‘Facility of the Year Award’ for social impact from the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE). The project delivered a finished and operational facility in just 15 months, as opposed to the usual three to four years. The purpose of the facility was to ensure continuity of supply of a vital HIV treatment, and therefore the social value of the project was huge. The focus was not the building and its aesthetic value, but the process it allowed for, and the lifesaving drug it produced. The social value of this project was the continued development of this drug, and what that brought to the community who relied on it.

We made sure that everyone in the project team understood the importance of the project and felt that they had a personal responsibility to ensure its success. Individuals were involved from start to finish to ensure engagement, and continuity of knowledge. 

To better enable understanding of this highly complex manufacturing process, we developed a conceptual model of the project, which is a powerful tool that helps people visualise the design and specify requirements. We held workshops with key stakeholders to evaluate different layout, facility, and manufacturing options. We developed strategies that we were confident could be delivered locally in Italy.

We made extensive use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and 3D visualisation from the very earliest stages. We used modular design principles for both equipment and layout, to maximise adaptability and flexibility of the finished facility.

The project ensured that GSK and ViiV Healthcare were able to make enough product to continue clinical trials, and were able to make the required regulatory submissions to the FDA and CHMP. 

GSK pharmaceutical facility in Parma, Italy. Designed by Bryden Wood.

Understanding use and creating an improved environment 

Our Design to Value approach, and fascination with data, and understanding processes and uses of buildings, as at Parma, often leads to solutions which are focused on highly efficient design, and the optimum solution for the end user.

Bryden Wood have worked closely with Circle Healthcare on many projects, including their Reading and Birmingham Hospitals. In these projects, Bryden Wood strove to understand the clinical practicalities of the hospital, balancing many stakeholder needs. At Circle Birmingham, as in any hospital, the key project was excellent and efficient patient care, and Bryden Wood’s approach was to make this as easy as possible for the staff, while creating a welcoming, beautiful environment for patients. This could only be done through constant stakeholder engagement, review and reflection post occupancy.  

At Circle Reading, post-occupancy interviews revealed the benefits that engagement provided, while also allowing information for future projects on what worked particularly successfully, and what perhaps needed improvement. Many comments were made on the quality of the space. Raj Goel, an orthopaedic surgeon working there, commented on the foyer, calling it a great place to work, and commenting that ‘Everything about this place is space,’ ‘There’s nice space everywhere.’ 

As well as this, Goel and other surgeons highlighted the particularly well thought-through operating theatres, commenting, “You can actually leave the key equipment in those theatres, rather than moving that equipment up and down all the time,” before reflecting that because the theatres benefit from ‘integrated systems,’ everything is already mounted and can just be moved around, which he refers to as, ‘yet another advantage’, as well as the ability to play music. 

These operating theatres are the result of constant briefing, understanding, and simulating the virtual environment, establishing exactly how the spaces would be used.

Reducing community impact with social value in construction

For Bryden Wood, every project should consider the impact on the end users, or those who will benefit from the asset, but also the impact on the surrounding community and area. Social value is about people, be that the client, or the general public who happen to live or work close by. 

The Forge is a key example of how Bryden Wood’s approach to built assets allows us to deliver on all fronts. As the first major building designed and delivered using our P-DfMA approach, it considers social value further than the conventional considerations of improved public realm, economic value and sustainability. It redefines it, in its approach to construction and the impact of that construction on the surrounding area.

The Forge is designed to a zero carbon in use strategy, with a forecast a forecast 19.4% reduction in embodied carbon per square metre, a 36.4% carbon reduction in the substructure and 20.2% in the superstructure and façade. 

As well as this, the construction system allows for a greater level of efficiency in the build, fewer materials, and a significant reduction in site operatives required for the superstructure and façade. The programme has been reduced by 19%, allowing for an accelerated construction period and less disruption to the surrounding community and area. 

A predicted 9.5% reduction in capital cost is a significant benefit of the system for the client, with the economic benefit for the area being 139,000 sq ft of high-quality commercial office space. 


Our projects also look at tangible social benefits. In the Churchwood Gardens project, it was placemaking that led the scheme and was key to the social value of the project. 

Bryden Wood worked with Loromah Estates to transform a sloping, landlocked in-fill site in south London with a history of failed planning applications, into a thriving community of residential blocks set in a verdant landscape. The back-land site had been undeveloped since the 1960s.

A sensitive approach to planning and active engagement with the surrounding residents through early-stage neighbourhood consultation was fundamental to the scheme’s success. We worked together to create a responsible development that minimised impact on the neighbours who had enjoyed open land behind their properties for many years. Our aim was to deliver a scheme that added value to the lives of the local community.

The developer’s forward-looking objective of creating a desirable community of rental apartments has informed a demographic spread within the resident community. Occupancy within the development has remained at 100% since its completion and there is a waiting list, with many residents requesting to purchase their properties outright. The active engagement of the community within the local area and their pride in the development is testament to the positive social impact of the project.

The project has also prioritised placemaking, providing great physical improvements to the neighbourhood. The formerly forgotten backland site now features pavilions surrounding a central communal green area, providing a fantastic outdoor space for the community to use and enjoy. The lockdown imposed on us by the COVID-19 pandemic saw the urban garden-style placemaking at Churchwood Gardens really come into its own. Residents could easily get out of their property and into the natural environment, while still feeling safe.

This level of placemaking, along with the sustainability credentials of the scheme and the added benefit to the existing built environment, is what social value in architecture means to us at Bryden Wood.

Churchwood Gardens, Forest Hill, London. Designed by architects Bryden Wood.

Constant reflection, evaluation, and improvement

Bryden Wood continues to push as a practice to look at how we can deliver social value through our projects, learning from each scale and sector type to inform better design outcomes. As a multi-disciplinary company, Bryden Wood has the ability to collaborate across specialities to target each of the strands of social value we have identified, in a holistic approach to design. Through analysing each project’s individual context and its data, we are able to continually iterate design responses, engaging with stakeholders to evaluate and develop our thinking.

This open approach to design takes time, care and, ultimately, collaboration from our clients to help drive it forward. With rising construction costs and an increased focus on decarbonising our built environment, it’s essential that we do not lose focus on improving the social value and impact of what we create.

The pressure on development to design and construct at increasing speed must be balanced against the critical analysis of the design brief and problem statement, and engagement with stakeholders that is so essential to improving the quality of our surroundings. The increasing use of social and environmental metrics in client briefs and a construction industry starting to recognise the importance of this broader social value gives hope, as we strive to improve the quality and meaning of the built environment.



Samuel, Flora, Why Architects Matter: Evidencing and Communicating the Value of Architects, first edition (London: Routledge, 2018), pp. 115-116.

Serin, Bilge, Tom Kenny, James White, and Flora Samuel, Design Value at the Neighbourhood Scale, first edition (Glasgow: UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE), 2018), p. 8 <> [Accessed 7 January 2022]

Samuel, Flora, Social Value Toolkit for Architecture, first edition (London: Royal Institute of British Architects, 2020), p. 6 <> [Accessed 7 January 2022]

Carmona, Matthew, Claudio De Magalhães, and Michael Edwards, 'What Value Urban Design?", URBAN DESIGN International, 7 (2002), 63-81

Samuel, Flora, and Eli Hatleskog, "Social Value in Architecture", Architectural Design, 90 (2020), 9

Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 (London: HM Government, 2012)



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