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Real Estate & Construction

How architects add value

By Martin Hyams, director, AHR
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The value of a building is often difficult to assess or quantify, with ‘value’ dependent on the perspective of the individual.

Every building has numerous stakeholders, each with their own differing expectations and outlook; its owner, the developer, the local authority, those who use the building on a day-to-day basis, the surrounding community, the person who lives next to it, as well as the person that simply walks past it every day.  

How do we then maximise the ‘value’ of a building, when everyone has a different perspective?

According to CABE (the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment), building value can be divided into six value categories – financial (exchange), use, image, social, environmental and cultural. Whilst not all categories are specifically appropriate for all building types, they can be attributed to all buildings, the built environment and the communities they create.

Three areas to piece together

At the outset of a new project, a client brief will typically outline the expectation and aspirations of the client, pertaining to a specific land plot and articulating target functions, areas and financial spend. The architect then overlays this with the masterplan the land plot sits within, which prescribes further parameters such as frontage lines, build densities, heights and footprint constraints. Finally, designing to current building legislation ensures the new space is safe, fit for use and fully compliant.

These three components - the client brief, the masterplan, and the building codes - set the criteria for which the building must work within, and – to an extent – set its inherent value. It may seem that the final ‘value’ of the building has already been decreed – however, this is where the architect uses their experience, knowledge and skill to work within these areas and maximise the how the building will provide value.

How can we define the role of an architect?

A visionary

The true talent of the architect is in their imagination. Their creative thinking enables them to see the balance between all requirements, influences and aspirations – and to not only understand the needs of the project, but to make sense of them. This is then written into the building design and an equilibrium is captured that meets not only the prescribed ‘spoken’ targets of the building, but also speaks to those ‘unspoken’ needs that are not always given a metric to score.

The art of ‘unlocking’ potential is often the key to success. Problematic sites, or those that require intervention to increase quality and functionality, often requires thinking outside the box. Whether through re-use, refurbishment, new-build or a combination of routes – it is the architect who can recognise the best elements of what’s there and incorporate them for the benefit of many of the CABE categories, from cost efficiency, to retaining cultural and social value.

Image value and the attractive of spaces provide real, tangible value to a building or space. A well designed, contextually aware new building can project an image of safety, care and respect for the built environment. Buildings and spaces should be enjoyable and healthy places to be in, and spend time within, and their visual appeal adds to this.

Futureproofing to allow for future market and evolving human needs is becoming increasingly important. If we design buildings from the outset with future adaptability ‘built in’ then future re-use becomes a viable alternative. Creating places that prioritise longevity is vital, and planning for the long-term is the only way to ensure that we can protect our environment and create developments that generations to come will want to continue to use.

A translator

The architect takes on the role of the custodian of public interest, the desire to create better communities, and together with the client and stakeholders, discovers the true opportunity that the brief presents. We read it, learn from it and then translate it – into a design language that maximises the potential for everyone.

Good architecture is a symbol of the care we have for our environment and the quality of the spaces we want to live our lives in. We also read the surrounding community, absorb this and allow it to inform our design so that places respond to their context and are coherent and considerate of the location and area they live. Therefore, as the architect, we often speak many different languages through our designs, always respecting and translating the culture and ethos of areas and weaving it into our new places and designs. They are an expression of our culture and can bring about wellbeing, health and social cohesion, all admirable goals.

In our recent project, the mBank HQ in Łódź, while it’s use was to prominently provide 28,000m2 of modern Grade A office space, we understood that the scheme would become a focal point for ongoing regeneration in the area – therefore, it was important to respect the site’s historical significance to the city and nearby 19th century buildings. This influenced and inspired our architectural language, and we prioritised natural light and views out towards the historic buildings in the vicinity to instil connectivity with the local area. Externally, our design encourages public access through the communal square to promote a community feel.

A problem-solver

A number of complex challenges are often presented throughout the life of a project that require the architect to be a problem-solver. A building design re-applied to another site is rarely the right solution for any other site – all sites are different and all demand tailored solutions.

There are many macro and micro issues in today’s built environment, from the needs to create more homes, offices and schools in line with increasing demand, to improving sustainability credentials and boosting the health and wellbeing of those within.

Well-designed, responsible buildings and spaces are much more than the sum of their parts. By encouraging our team to look within a wider context for ideas and opportunities, we open opportunities for value creation not previously considered. Opportunities often appear from what could be considered peripheral studies or from looking in other realms of real estate and beyond.

We also innovate – from utilising modern methods of construction and new ways to visualise and experience our designs, such as through virtual reality, to improving how we can collaborate to produce better quality information that reduces the time, cost and quality risk associated with developments. These matters are all based on an underlying requirement to make the world better than we found it, minimise material usage, minimise waste and environmental impact, creating and improving our communities to be fantastic places for humanity to thrive in.

A team player

It takes a team to successfully deliver a project. Developments benefit from a shared vision, with the strength diversity between team members and disciplines adding considerable value. At AHR, a practice with multiple sectors and services under one roof, we are collaborators and knowledge-sharers by nature, and know first-hand how finding the medial knowledge between different perspectives can help make a development thrive.

Architects understand the different drivers for all parties and work together to understand the varied and complex elements which go into building a desirable and futureproof development. Being flexible doesn’t mean we compromise on quality – a collaborative approach encourages intelligent decision making.

The architect has a significant part to play throughout the project in ensuring the integrity of the design throughout the journey. Good communication is the secret ingredient to any successful development – and through communication we understand what our clients need and where to challenge the brief when needed.

A realist

Architects appreciate how the building will work in use and innovate and invent to ensure the optimum functionality. It is important to not lose sight of how the building is going to perform and to design buildings that operate as they were envisioned to and minimise ‘performance gap’. In a world in constant change, with expectations widening between generations, buildings need to be versatile. This can particularly be seen in workplace design, with the growth of co-working an example of the rapidly evolving needs of a more entrepreneurial society.

At 3T Office Park in Gdynia, while the development consists of three office buildings, we have embedded connectivity between them, as well as flexibility, encouraging social interaction and cohesion and helping to enhance the health and wellbeing of those within. The three buildings are connected on the two lower floors with a podium that houses building entrances, food outlets, as well as office and retail space – creating an environment that becomes more than just a place to work. Further, we have imbued adaptability, with the connecting podium also allowing larger floor plates to be created at level +1 if the market demands it in the future, embedding longevity in the design.

As architects, our strength is understanding the practicalities of the situation – those of our clients, engineers, contractors and those who use our buildings.

The value of an architect

Providing ‘architectural services’ on a project is a role which has many facets. At the heart of the role, an architect knows that building and spaces affects people’s lives – as people, we spend much of our time within these areas, therefore, it is important that they add value and not take away. Placemaking and high-quality design is essential if buildings are to be considered a positive addition to the built environment

Complex briefs and problems don’t phase us – we enjoy challenges. One of the highest measures of success for a project is the satisfaction of the people who use the space, and this is achieved, in part, by the architect designing with a consideration for placemaking. However, the architect’s value and experience within the built environment is also reflected in the fact that the solutions they provide always ensure that everyone involved achieves their own objectives.

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