Measuring Design Value in High Density Housing


 From Utzon’s Opera House onwards, and perhaps before, there has been a tradition within Australian public life of subjective and long-standing debates surrounding design quality and the worth of design. One critical area in which these debates are endemic is in the area of high density housing. This research aims to quantify the benefits of design quality in complex high density housing projects. It asks how can the outcomes created by an investment in design processes during a project’s development be measured? What makes this research project, different, significant and innovative is that it will be the first empirical research in Australia to establish the relationship between an early investment in design and the economic, urban, construction and life cycle outcomes of high density housing projects. It will enable architects and engineers to better face the everyday challenge of proposing to clients and developers that an investment in design, earlier rather than later, creates long term value.

Investing in design processes and thinking is more critical as the procurement context for design services is rapidly changing. The outsourcing of design services are now disaggregated and consulting architects and engineers rarely provide a full service. This disaggregation of design has been driven by been driven by the rise of project managers and adverserial D&C bidding. More recently, the bidding techniques associated with Public-Private Partnerships and Alliancing indicate the need to develop better design quality indicators. In addition, new forms of collaboration engendered by the rise of Building Information Modelling also point to the need to quantify the outcomes of design work. High density housing is an ideal arena in which to research these concepts because it is where design and economic imperatives often come into conflict in Australian cities.

The specific aims and objectives of the project were to:

Identify the qualitative and quantitative attributes of design quality in high density housing in order to redefine these concepts using Australian case studies. This will firstly involve developing a robust theoretical model which relates Design Quality to the economic, spatial, functional, aesthetic qualities and social and cultural attributes of high density housing.

Identify the interdependencies between this theoretical model and existing Value for Money (VfM) models in Australian policy practice and international procurement research. Examine and then describe the linkages between the increased expenditure on design at the early stages of a project and VfM project outcomes after project delivery.

Examine and trace the benefits of an early investment in design, and design services, through complex procurement pathways. This issue is pressing given the complexity of innovative financing, new procurement methods (Alliancing & PPPs) and the rise of BIM.

Extend our understanding of and investment in design quality and relate this to design value in high density apartment housing: market value, whole of life costs, operating revenues, energy expenses, and carbon abatement regimes.

Build on interdisciplinary and theoretical perspectives across architecture, urban design, planning, engineering and project and cost management, in order to locate design quality and design value in the broader Australian policy context of procurement decision making.

Intended outcomes of the research

A benchmark design quality index for the precise evaluation of design value in high density housing. This index will match qualitative, and seemingly subjective, design concepts in high density housing with tangible outcomes. The index will be developed using a design quality decision support and evaluation method tool that could be used and further developed in other research.

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