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If you want to know more about our Social research services contact Michael Riebel

Buildings don’t change the world, people do. They can, however, have a tremendous impact on how we humans feel and behave.

We know that the physical shape of the built environment influences our social behaviour and as architects we are in the privileged position of being able to use design as a catalyst for positive change.

Architectural sociologists have been quietly studying how buildings shape society for over a century but it’s only really since the 2012 Social Value Act, that it’s been gaining attention from people outside academia and the construction industry. It’s now widely recognised that social sustainability is as vital as economic and environmental sustainability.

By reflecting on the social and economic impact of the built environment at every scale, we can support and guide our project teams and our clients to design for a better society.

Social value

Our approach to social value goes way beyond architecture, it’s about improving the social, environmental, and economic wellbeing of places to positively transform people’s lives, all while delivering commercial value for our clients.

Great progress has been made in recent years in getting social value on the radar, through government policy, frameworks, and advocacy. But as the creation and measurement of social value in the built environment becomes normal practice, the frameworks and metrics used risk undervaluing our greatest contribution – good design.

Researcher Michael Riebel has undertaken a year-long study to understand and measure the social value delivered through our projects. With the support of experts Hatch/Regeneris, we have revisited six of our completed schemes, across a variety of sectors, and applied a broad range of socio-economic metrics.

Delivering social value report

Delivering Social Value presents the case studies and reflects our investigation of when and how social value is generated throughout the lifetime of the project, offering readers insight into the different ways communities can benefit from architecture and placemaking.

You can download a copy of the report here.

Post occupancy evaluation

Creating social value is a circular process; the design process doesn’t end as people move in. By carrying out post-occupancy evaluations (POE) with users, we can find out how a building performs, understand what’s working well, and unlock what could be improved. The lessons we learn then inform our next project, completing the circle and instilling more value into the early stages of design.

Chobham Manor

The London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) is responsible for looking after the development of buildings and outdoor spaces in and around Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It sets out to create exemplar neighbourhoods that not only provide homes for local people but also enable high quality, sustainable lifestyles, and resilient, long-term communities.

We collaborated on the development of a bespoke post occupancy evaluation for the LLDC at Chobham Manor. With Buro Happold overseeing the project, including data protection, and Soap Retrofit analysing the energy and environmental performance of the buildings, our job was to engage with residents to find out what it’s really like to live at Chobham Manor, through a mixture of online surveys, focus groups and one to one interview.

Traditionally, POEs focus on whether a building fulfils its purpose: are the space standards enough? Do users feel well? Is the ventilation working? But at Chobham Manor, we took a more holistic approach, charting the relationship between the neighbourhood community, the streetscape, and the residential blocks. It was important to understand the resident’s experience of the development at every scale so interviews started with a walk around the public spaces and ended over a cup of tea in the resident’s home.

The full report has recently been published by the LLDC and you can download it here.

Urban research

Understanding human behaviour within the built environment is a complex task that requires a variety of analytic tools. Our urban research focusses on GIS-based socio-economic and spatial analysis, urban scenario testing and place-based field research.

Northumberland Park

We were commissioned, alongside muf architecture/art and Gort Scott, to develop an urban design framework for Northumberland Park, to enable a resident-led vision for regeneration. Options co-designed with residents will set the case for delivering new and improved homes, social infrastructure, and public realm improvements.

Northumberland Park has suffered both fast and slow violence in recent years; the retracted 2015 Haringey Development Vehicle masterplan that proposed almost whole-sale demolition of the existing council stock, and a subsequent lack of alternatives or meaningful maintenance since. The post-war ‘estate’ contains a high amount of one and two-bed homes, now increasingly unsuitable and over-crowded for its tenants. Exacerbated by baked-in design flaws of the 1960’s blocks, and sometimes dysfunctional urban realm, the area suffers from high rates of crime and anti-social behaviour.

We employed extensive data mapping in order to quantify various quality benchmarks including distribution of building overcrowding, provision of fresh food sources, and accessibility to different types of open space. Combined with intensive field surveys and stakeholder engagement, we identified specific improvements in the movement and open space networks, whilst providing a robust evidence base for the overall regeneration of the estate. The evidence base was integral in connecting resident priorities with global issues across the site, in particular showing the extent of the interventions needed to address both.

Behavioural studies

With the design of any building, we need to understand the intended purpose of it and the factors that will influence its performance. One of these is the way people move about and behave in the building; by understanding that we can maximise the value of the space for all its users.

People flow modelling at spark\sbarc

The world’s first social science research park bringing academics and entrepreneurs together in a spirit of innovation, enterprise, and collaboration.

At the heart of the space is the Oculus, a sculptural staircase that ascends through a slanted void and travels the full height of the seven-storey building. At ground floor level, the staircase forms a key element of the welcome to the building, with banks of seating either side of the stairs forming an informal ‘social staircase’ that can also be used as an auditorium for events.

As the staircase rises through the building it forms a ‘spiral of collaboration’ with breakout zones on the landings of each level that create a lively activity zone in the centre of each floorplate.

We worked with people flow modelling consultant Buro Happold to ensure that our designs maximised the opportunity for interaction among the building’s diverse users.

It was agreed that the ground floor entrance areas and social break-out spaces on each floor were critical for the success of sbarc|spark in terms of capacity, safety, comfort, and collaboration.

A high-level analysis and dynamic people flow modelling of primary circulation routes and spaces within the building was performed against critical scenarios.

We developed our original concept designs to maximise the potential for impromptu meetings and communications. These included the provision of clear views between workstations and social spaces.

The building has now been open a few months; part of the post occupancy evaluations will be to review actual data, against the research outcomes.