Flora Samuel – The Cultural Value of Architecture: A Critical Review with specific reference to UK homes and neighbourhoods

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This nine month project, led by Sheffield University and supported by the Royal Institute of British Architects, has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of a wider Cultural Value of the Arts project. The project is already proving extremely timely. Our initial findings have already been submitted to the Call for Evidence for the government instigated Farrell Enquiry on architecture. It will also contribute to a three year project on the value of architecture recently launched by the new RIBA President Stephen Hodder. In these days of increasing austerity councils, housing associations and others are under real pressure to prove value and our project is already contributing to this debate, for example at a symposium for Registered Providers of housing led by the Homes and Communities Agency on value in housing later in November.

We really enjoy the richness and complexity of trying to pin down architectural value, a notoriously difficult and contentious task. Previous studies have generally focused on economic benefits or have been based on highly debatable assumptions, for example that it is always good to make as much community interaction as possible or that urban regeneration is always helpful. Our focus is on wellbeing.

The project has two very different workpackages. The first is a critical review of a very large range of reports and standards on housing written over the last decade in the UK by government. These are so numerous that we have to make a initial sift – the criteria being research rigour – before choosing the ones that we will subject to in depth analysis. The critical review has initially been divided into three components : Health and Ageing; Neighbourhood Cohesion; a as well as Identity, Belonging and Heritage, but these two are subject to revision. Our aim here is to reveal how others have tried to assess or evidence value and to use these findings to suggest possible future frameworks. The critical review will form the basis for a database accessible via the web, a report and a proposal for a new framework for the evidencing of architecture’s cultural value, to be published as a book Why Architecture Matters by Routledge in 2015. The project team benefits from an extensive, interdisciplinary advisory board of world experts who are themselves helping us to create a definition of value in this context.

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The second workpackage the public consultation on the value of architecture will take place in the Sheffield University based LiveLab, the city based outreach arm of the architecture school and is likely to take the form of a research by design project involving some twenty five Sheffield MArch students. This unprecedented piece of participatory action research will test the extent of public knowledge about the activities of architects, build public awareness of what architects really do and suggest new avenues for public engagement.

If you have any evidence of value that you think we should be taking into consideration please contact culturalvalueofarchitecture@sheffield.ac.uk , follow us on twitter @home_research

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