What Value Engineering Should Really Mean

For our most recent Switching On webinar, we invited a panel of specialists to talk about values in the built environment, and what it takes to embed them in construction projects.

On our panel for this latest Switching On webinar were:

  • Lisa Drake – Director, Elliott Wood
  • Lee Leston-Jones – Partner, Cundall
  • Lisa McFarlane – Director, Seven Architecture.

The Importance of Brand Values

If practices connect personally with their brand values, this can help instil them and ensure they run through the projects they work on.

There are however challenges to doing this successfully:

  • If the practice itself is a big, global player how do you keep these values human and relatable?
  • If projects face financial constraints, how realistic is it to expect them to put the impact of a project on society first in a list of considerations?

For some practices, taking a purposeful approach will be easier than for others. For example, there can be restrictions on what direction to take that come with being a plc. How will shareholders react?

Another challenge comes if a practice adopts brand purposefulness, which is how to make these values tangible and real in the marketplace.

Having noble aspirations are one thing, but enacting them is quite another.

Turning values into reality requires change, and this is itself a challenging process.

What is the Architect’s Role?

The problem architects face in the wider context of the built environment is a loss of their role.

The drive to economise and the pressures of the procurement process have meant that the emphasis on design overshadows the importance of serving the end-user’s needs.

Here is where architects come up against value engineering in its most basic form: securing necessary materials, and functions, at the lowest possible cost. Whereas this should help solve problems, eliminate unwanted costs and emphasise functionality, it can also act as a severe constraint.

If architects want the purpose of their role to be helping to change communities, then the value of architecture itself must move higher upstream.

How, in fact, should architects measure success?

Architects have a major role to play in the impact projects have on the environment, including the materials they specify.

For example, concrete has a serious environmental impact, not just with the emissions involved in making cement, but also in the whole process of extracting its raw materials and shipping it for use in construction.

Obviously, the client has a major responsibility too, when it comes to the environmental impact of projects, but it is up to architects to help a shift away from profit towards legacy.

This is about long-term impact rather than short-term financial gain.

One practical example would be prioritising the reusing or re-purposing of existing commercial buildings ahead of building new ones.

From Scale to Impact

One by-product of the Covid-19 pandemic is that it has put considerable impetus behind discussions around the purpose of town and city centres, and what their development should look like.

One way of looking at the pandemic is as the Great Pause in our onward striving for economic growth at any cost.

Instead of rebuilding a broken system, build a new one.

And for architects and their clients, this becomes something literal rather than metaphorical: what are the options for putting impact before scale in the built environment?

One is to see a building as a store of materials so that, when it becomes time to re-purpose it, these materials are reusable and recyclable.

The architect acts as the bridge between the client and the end-user, enabling a dialogue about the value of a structure within its community, and how to maximise usefulness while minimising impact. Cultural empathy has the potential to influence the development of the brief, and ultimately the outcome of the project.

This is a different kind of value engineering.

What Positive Changes Could Define 2021? 

Industry 4.0 has been seen by many as the great disrupter, but the real area of disruption has been health.

Covid-19 has brought about massive change in an accelerated timeframe. But because of this, it has also opened up much more space for discussion about what the future should look like.

In architectural terms, the questions are around purpose: the purpose of buildings and spaces and how people interact with them.

And the one real value of Covid-19 measures is that people have been able to see the impact of changes in a short space of time.

One example is the pedestrianisation of Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Others are the effect of a decline in transport use on air quality during the first lockdown, and the huge increase in working from home.

These are physical demonstrations of concepts or changed conditions in practice.

Can architects, designers and engineers build on these foundations and help drive lasting change?

For example, could the office space become part of a new mixed-model of co-working collaboration combined with remote or home working?

Redefining Value Engineering

How should architects engineer value in both their projects and their profession?

It comes back to brand purpose and how practices can position and present themselves as problem-solvers rather than commodities in the supply chain.

Architects must collaborate with other professionals, both within and outside their immediate sphere, driving change collectively.

Value engineering doesn’t have to be a constraint. It could be the foundation for a whole new approach to the built environment. But it depends on what these values are.

A Partisan Approach

We’re a Manchester-based brand consultancy and we promote and support and change in the region’s cities and towns. Our aim is help people find positive solutions to sustain future development.

We hold regular Switching On webinars. For more details, please call us on 0161 860 7010, or email hello@partisan.studio

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