How do we create social value in architecture
Social value is embedded as a core principle of the architecture that we create at WR-AP. This is curated by our studio ethos of being a people centric practice, but it’s important to establish how we balance social value with other key considerations such as economics and the global climate crisis.
For us social impact has been in our DNA since our formation pre-pandemic in 2018.
It’s about the positive impact architecture can have on our users and clients lives in terms of improving our communities’ social outcomes and social justice for our staff, it’s also closely related to an overall appreciation of wellbeing.
It’s important and crucial that we first outline what we believe social value is. Social value is a quantifiable measure of how many social benefits a business – in our case, an architecture practice – brings to its local community or the communities that we work for and in. Social value can include many different aspects of this, naturally; for example, you could consider opportunities to bring new economic, environmental, or social boosts to the local community.
Naturally as we design buildings and places social value for us is often about improving the lives of the people who work with us, our staff, and everyone who uses and encounters our buildings and environments. It’s about making sure that our buildings and what we’re doing is sustainable socially and environmentally. It’s also about improving the life chances of those that meet us throughout the design process and where we can, including such people wholeheartedly within the process.
Why does social value matter to WR-AP
The ARB’s code of conduct stipulates that as architects we should be, honest and work with integrity, consider the wider impact of our work and have respect for others. All three of these standards clearly point to a profession where social value truly matters. As architects, in our training, we are taught to be compassionate, to be fair, to always try to improve people’s lives. So, if this is the case, it should be easy to demonstrate how our profession integrates social value, right? Not so, for too many practices, social value is an afterthought, another thing to tick off the never-ending legislative list of things to do. But for us, it’s at the core of our founding principles, it takes time, dedication, and real effort to make definitive change through social initiatives. Our practice is founded by an immigrant to the UK and a northerner from a working-class background, and so for us making a difference societally really matters and defines the decisions we make as a practice.
Social value to us is about making sure people are comfortable in the places we design, that there’s equality in our environments for all, and that the buildings and places that we design fit within their context and with its people and if we can help improve people’s life outcomes along the way, the happier we will be.
This practice mindset has started to be recognised by our industry peers and outside agencies in the form of awards for the social initiatives that our team delivers.
The most pertinent example of this is the work we’ve undertaken with our Kingston Riverside Public Realm Project, where we won the Lord Majors Dragon award for Innovation 2022 Winners announced! - Dragon Awards Here we collaborated with The Kingston Academy School to really bring young people to the forefront of design decisions. This initiative encapsulates how local businesses can make a difference for young members of their communities by mentoring them and giving them a voice on local regeneration matters and one that it is fully aligned with the government’s 2020 White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’, that identifies young people as ‘those who stand to gain from development’ but whose voice is ‘not heard loudly enough’. We wanted to make it happen!
At WR-AP we strongly believe that young members of the community can contribute with fresh ideas to local projects, whilst having the opportunity to learn about the process of bringing those ideas to reality alongside local professional teams. Furthermore, the earlier young members of our community start to be interested in their local projects and have a voice, the stronger the community becomes.
The objective of this initiate was twofold; on the one hand we wanted to empower young members of our community to have a say and contribute to the future of the public spaces they use, as we believe communities are stronger with participation of every age group. On the other hand, we wanted to share our skills as architects with school students interested in architecture, design and construction in order for them to experience first-hand a little glimpse of our industry and for them to actively participate in the design process and where feasible to actually lead it.
The Kingston Academy school was chosen because they are a local school to both our practice and the project competition location. We also agreed with the school that 50% of the students selected to assist us with the initiative needed to be recipients of the governments Pupil Premium Grant (PPG) i.e. they are from disadvantaged backgrounds. We were adamant that the opportunity was open to those that most needed it and very often didn’t receive it.
We also considered that as the project was organised by Kingston Council, the partnership between a local institution, a local business and the local authority was an exemplar model to deliver local projects of this nature for the future.
But what did this all mean for the students:
· Mentoring students with skills/knowledge about architecture, design and construction.
· Empower students to have a voice by articulating their own ideas for the project.
· Promote awareness of young members of the community about local issues and possibilities.
· Consult with a wider range of local stakeholders to enhance the impact of the project
· Giving young people the platform to present their ideas.
You can find out more about our Kingston Riverside project HERE
How can you improve the social impact of your future projects?
Well, you need to be socially aware, for starters. Social awareness and social justice start in your own office. Do you have a volunteering programme where you and your employees volunteer time to local causes? Do you have a social awareness calendar to highlight causes you champion as an office? Once you’ve got your own ship in order you can start to look at doing things at a project level. An easy win for architects is to involve as many people and social groups as possible in the consultation and design process of your projects. This might be challenging for some clients as they like to control the consultation/engagement sessions as much as possible but if we are to make societal difference you need to empower as many voices as possible. Ask your supply chain to get involved, ensure you work with sub-consultants and contractors who believe in what you’re trying to achieve. If they don’t, find a team that does.
You and your business are not going to get it 100% correct from the beginning but its from the early learnings that the real changes can be made.
And finally, look out for opportunities where you can promote and discuss the successes you have with social value. A great advocate for social value work are the Thornton Education Trust Awards Inspire Future Generation Awards — Thornton Education Trust . WR-AP have been lucky enough to receive a commendation from TET for the work our team do on social value.
We’re going to keep on helping where we can and doing the right thing within the communities that we work within – we suggest you do the same.
This blog post has been written by Sean, one of the directors here at WR-AP . Sean's desire to work in an industry that could help people and society in a small way led him to pursue a career in architecture. You can read more about Sean here.