The value of design and how to create a ‘pipeline of talent’

Over a year after the Bean review (Sir Charles Bean: Independent review of UK economic statistics: final report), where design is classed as ‘intangible capital’ and it is recognised that economic statistics aren’t necessarily measuring the output of design and the associated productivity correctly, we still seem to struggle to understand the contribution it makes to the UK economy, visibly or invisibly. ‘Innovation’ has become a buzzword and is seen as the source of economic advancement with ‘Design’ being the poor relation but both complement and depend on each other.

It is often difficult to describe the value of design – not only with a focus on the economic advantages but also with regard to the increase of health and well-being for the whole community through well designed places, homes and workplaces. The Design Council’s research shows that for every £1 invested in design, businesses can expect over £4 in net operating profit which means that design could be a game changer in re balancing the economy and creating significant opportunities for the South West.

The exponential growth of design roles and economic impact means that we will need to nurture design talent for our fast growing industries so companies can find the ‘home-grown’ and local skills they need. Future research has now been commissioned by the Design Council on how design skills measurably contribute to productivity and innovation. In the case of building and urban design this will lead to better living, sustainable communities and increased happiness.

It is therefore essential to provide attractive learning spaces and sufficient student places at all levels of Further and Higher Education to support the design economy in the South West. One of the inspiring colleges of the future is the refurbished 6,000 sqm School of Art and Design for Somerset College, designed by Stride Treglown.

The College had secured the appropriate funding which shows that there is a growing importance of the region as a provider of high quality Further Education and a pipeline of design talent.

This significant £12m regeneration project provides refurbished and new build spaces for the largest building on the college campus. Although the existing building was structurally sound, it suffered from severe dilapidation in areas and has been affected by poor alterations in its 41 year history. The brief was therefore to reinvent the building itself to attract more students and to provide teaching that keeps up with the demands of a cutting edge Art and Design curriculum and equips students for the fast-changing world of work. The College already has close links to commercial partners and a commitment to employability.

Stride Treglown’s concept was to enhance the robust original design and build on the quality of its unadorned structure and spaces. The only elements that were physically altered were areas upgraded due to poor existing performance. These include an unattractive 1980’s lift shaft which was in the final design ‘celebrated’ by the addition of a gold coloured cladding to expressly distinguish between the original and the altered elements. Project Associate Dougal Anderson said ‘The existing building had a very strong character and it was about bringing the best out of it. ‘

High quality, flexible and inspiring teaching areas and open workshops were created that showcase the students’ work, connecting them with the rest of the College and adding real value to the overall scheme. Previous warren like wings were replaced by modern flexible spaces to help with both the circulation and envelope performance. A low energy sustainable building has been created that has been thermally upgraded and utilises natural ventilation, brise soleil and night time cooling through its thermal mass to control the environment.

We have carried out a number of design reviews internally and with the College from early competition stage to completion to ensure the initial design vision will be kept while refining the design further. Having architectural schemes- and indeed all design proposals- assessed by our peers will encourage aspiration and ambition for good, sustainable design quality and the retention of a strong concept.

The project is currently shortlisted for both the 2017 RIBA South West Awards and RICS South West (Building Conservation) Awards and it is hoped that this excellent design will suitably support the next generation of designers. Further information on the project and more images can be seen by clicking here ...


Many thanks to Cora Kwiatkowski, who has provided the above article. Cora is a Divisional Director architect for Stride Treglown, having joined the practice in 2006, and is responsible for a wide range of projects- higher education, student accommodation, workplace, residential and mixed-use schemes.

Cora believes that true collaboration will lead to excellence in design. She especially enjoys resolving complex briefs using different ways of communication including BIM and is always on the look-out for new technologies.

Leading multi-disciplinary teams over 15 years as Lead Architect and Client Advisor, working for private and public sector clients in the UK and previously in Germany for JSWD Architekten, Sweden and Switzerland, has enabled her to develop high-quality design principles whilst delivering BCO, RICS and LABC award-winning but economically sound solutions.

Being a Design Review Panel Member for the Design Commission for Wales, The Design Review Panel and the Swindon Design Review Panel, Cora is especially interested in the advantages new methods and technologies have to offer with regard to improving the quality and buildability of our designs to be able to create inspiring places for all.

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