Is measuring ‘quality’ possible?

Recently, Liverpool-based journalist and editor of LBN Daily, Tony McDonough, raised an interesting question that really got the ArchiPhonic team thinking – what is the objective measure of ‘quality’ and how should it be framed?

The question stemmed from an observation that whenever a property development is proposed in the city, someone will inevitably comment on the ‘quality’ of the design. From our discussions it seems that the answer to Tony’s question will be different if you ask an architect or designer, than if you asked a professional from the construction industry.

But does this mean that the quality of design is subjective?

Harriet Powell Hall, an Architect at ArchiPhonic, said: “People will frame ‘quality’ differently depending on their background and experience. For example a construction professional may consider a building process, materials used or even a team as the measure of ‘quality’.

“As architects, we like to focus on qualities such as aesthetics, durability, sustainability, materiality, user experience and buildability. If delivered in an efficient process, these elements can combine to create a ‘quality’ development.

“However, at the core of any project the three main objectives will come down to time, quality and cost – so in theory, there will be a sense of what is important to a client from the outset and weighing up quality against the other two criteria.

“In terms of ‘quality’ as an outcome, this could be what works with the client brief and their values, how the spaces are planned and designed as well as the user experience. Architects play a valuable role in realising and defining this ‘quality’ in the end product.”

Architect Ioanna Tsakanika added: “Quality in the design can only be objective. It is often misinterpreted as subjective because design is confused with aesthetics and style, both of which are subjective.

“This is much like the way that there are different genres in music and each one of us has different taste, however a person who likes rock music can still appreciate the quality of a good folk song.

“Quality in design can be measured in experience in everyday life, either as a user of the building, or as a user of the city where the building stands. It is objective measures that drive the design – the construction method, sustainability of materials, thermal comfort, privacy, good acoustic insulation and connection with landscape and public realm – the natural light and views.

“Another mark of a ‘quality’ development would be its context. Creating a connection to what is already there, referencing the landscape, the history of a place and innovating to combine these and all the above-mentioned measures. 

“The issue with the measure of ‘quality’ is that it is often applied subjectively to talk about internal finishes, furniture and trends that all together compose a lovely Instagram picture, not the measures that we as professionals do not necessarily consider a marker of ‘quality’.”

The concept of ‘quality’ outside of a professional setting is more commonly used subjectively and perhaps there is a lack of wider awareness of real measures of ‘quality’ when it comes to property developments. Architects and architectural designers, their clients and the general public need to enter into a wider conversation about what constitutes quality design.

Ioanna added: “The end user is aware of quality when living in a development is made easy. Or, conversely, the absence of quality when they come back to the architect looking to improve what was originally delivered.

“Design is subtle, but it is present and shaping everyday lives and routines and the question really stands there. What are the qualities we stand for in everyday living, whether that is domestic or public? That is a question that we should be reflecting on as professionals along with our clients – the people who set the briefs – and the general public as well.”