Designing In 2024 - What Are The Challenges?

Issue 100

By Neil Turner, Director, Howarth Litchfield

A common question of many clients is the cost and value to them of building projects. As architects we can fixate on the design qualities and aesthetics of any building project, when in reality, the functionality, the costs, the programme, and the buildability can be equally or even more important to the client team.

Of course, all buildings should be attractive, inviting and improve our environment. Architects care deeply about design and all of them want to win awards. Don’t believe those architects that deny it – they are all vain, as it part of the training!

The question of quality or value is a subjective point. A successful project is much more than the simple aesthetics or the choice of materials. I have been into Newcastle University for student reviews this last week, listening to and enjoying the students describe their schemes with raw enthusiasm on everything from purity of a design idea through to new thoughts on sustainability. They must understand that a scheme needs to achieve success on a huge variety of elements for a project to work.

The challenge in architectural practice is to balance many more issues with the practical problem solving of making a building possible, affordable, buildable, and safe – yet still make a building into a worthy piece of architecture.

Over the last few years, the challenges have grown and in the last year we have seen the introduction of new legislation, including the Building Safety Act. This will require designers, clients and contractors to look at how they design, build and record design decisions.

The consequences of the dreadful Grenfell tower disaster and the problems that were discovered between suppliers, contractors and designers must not be allowed to be repeated. A ‘golden thread’ of recording information is now required. Most architects and contractors were already doing this recording, but it now needs to be enforced. The responsibility on the client side is now much more serious and simply cannot be ignored, which is to be applauded.

New biodiversity legislation is in force, asking for a ten percent gain over the original using a complex measuring tool from the Government.

The reality is that it is impossible for a site to achieve this target, so developers, house builders and business will have to look at buying credits off site – or develop adjacent land. Ecologists are telling me they do not know how the rules will work. Time will tell us if this helps our environment, but I suspect that this legislation will slow down building projects, add huge costs (and delays) and be anti-development.

Of course, I want development to be sensitive to our environment, but for the economy to grow in this region we don’t need obstacles or cost added.

Throughout my career I have seen changes in building regulations, planning, safety laws along with new developments in building technologies, materials, and enhanced awareness of energy use (both in the construction and the running of a building).

All these add to the challenges of a designer but do not prevent a good architect from delivering great buildings. So, whatever the challenges of a brief set by the client team, rejoice at the opportunity and give it your best – its all part of the excitement of being an architect.

Neil Turner, Director, Howarth Litchfield can be contacted on 0191 3849470 or email

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