© 2016 Neil Stacey


I have just re-read the “Cultural Value of Architecture in Homes and Neighbourhoods” Report, from the AHRC funded Cultural Value of Architecture project (CV0A). It is a very good read. Why has it not had more traction? Perhaps the traction is ongoing, partly unseen ….. but I do not recall any conversations with fellow architects, academic or practitioner, about it.

CVoA hit the nail on the head on many important issues/ problems with architectural culture. I was reminded of it whilst reviewing the RIBA’s City Health Check publication (2013); the publication only mentions the word architecture three times. I was reading it as some background reading around architecture + well-being. I was reading it whilst pondering my frustration, a frustration that I need to nail down with some research in order to better articulate it …….

The international discourse regarding cities and urbanisation is dominated by human well-being and health. For decades the WHO has been leading and steering the global health discourse towards the broader concept of well-being. Indeed this discourse is so ‘now’ and prevalent that any consumer of online social media news will have their retina stream of My Little Pony glitter-shit (Russell Brand) regularly punctuated by implicit or explicit references to ‘quality of life indicators’, ’10 best cities’ and other ‘urban-health nuggets’ that are tweeted, FB’ed and e-circulated for speedy consumption.

Well-being is clearly the core value of the prevailing urban discourse, all other values, such as economics, are appraised through the lens of well-being. The gulf between the values of the discourse and the values of the market, which dominates the development of our cities, is beyond the scope of this article.

So what of architecture? Does its discourse mimic this well-being focus? Is well-being the lens through which all other criteria are viewed and understood? Well-being is certainly evident in the architect profession’s codes of conduct and educational criteria. Regardless of codes and criteria, does the everyday manifestation of architecture culture ‘well-being’ as a core value? I am mindful of the Highway Code when reading the RIBA/ ARB codes and educational criteria: the Highway Code places pedestrians as the top priority yet the everyday evidence, presented by vehicle drivers, highway engineers and whoever sets the timers on pelican crossings, is that this is not valued in practice.

Is it mean to state that the well-being of citizens is to architecture what ‘the pedestrian’ is to car driving culture? Most architects would roar ‘yes’ to this statement. Perhaps it is time  architects made their concern for the well-being of people much more explicit. I could rant about architecture magazines and their people-less photos at this point, but I will leave it to another time.

The RIBA’s 2013 publication, CITY HEALTH CHECK, did address well-being directly. It collates and presents some interesting and useful data from research. But if you could read it and not be aware that it has been produced by the RIBA, or that it is about architects, architecture and health, who would you imagine were the authors? Planners? Policitians? Public health lobbyists? An association representing paving, street furniture and landscaping companies? Its recommendations, there are five of them stretching to three pages, mention the word architect twice (1 and 5). Indeed the whole document, which stretches to 48 pages, only mentions architecture three times.

I am undertaking a quick pilot study. I am reviewing the building case studies in three well-circulated architecture publications  over a 3 month period. I will identify how the articles articulate that which is valued by the author, as a proxy measure of what is valued by the publication and thereby architectural culture. It is not the most robust of methodologies but it will provide satisfaction to my curiosity – and may inform further studies and research…….

…… I am interested in how the language, terminology and values of Quality of Life indicators (QoL) have affected or infected architectural discourse. Quality of life indicators have been prominent in UK policy debate for many a year, globally for decades. Policy affects change and underpins economic decisions and regulatory processes and permissions. Where does UK architecture discuss or mention QoL? If it does, I suspect it whispers them ( I haven’t heard mention of them – although I may have a mild form of academic isolation deafness).