By Gerald Blunt
Good development occurs through a process of enquiry and design that is undertaken to produce a unique built outcome dependant on its site and client requirements.
A developer will have a vision and / or a set of requirements for what they want to build. The proposal will need to be cost effective and produce a good quality development. The developer’s vision has to be married with the opportunities and constraints of a particular site and its context. The location’s sense of place – or what makes it special – needs to be considered.
Regulatory requirements need to be factored into the project. These requirements set a minimum standard, however they are not cognisant of a developer’s programme or the unique characteristics of the site to produce a good built outcome. As well, the built outcome is likely to exist for a longer period than the initial developer’s involvement, and the building and its activities will have an ongoing interaction with its environment and community, often with changing uses occurring over time. Therefore, the robustness of the project needs to be considered, which on occasion can be outside the developer’s brief.
A design process can be a complex proposition with a wide range of appropriate specialist input needed in order to deliver a creative and technically component outcome.
The design process purposefully has a number of phases to clarify the vision; pre design, concept design, developed design and detailed design. These phases help to define the intellectual and creative process that explores options leading to a final arrangement and detail of buildings and / or spaces on site.
A good design process works at a range of scales, and is iterative, so that there can be an exploration and testing of ideas. This understanding of issues leads to a final proposition that meets the developer’s requirements, is cost effective and produces a good outcome for the context.
Given that a good design process is iterative, design review is a natural fit. As questions are considered and where there are a range of options and outcomes, conversations and testing of ideas can only make the outcome stronger.
Peer review is ingrained in other areas such as academia and the scientific community as a way to validate a proposition and provides:
- quality control;
- improved performance;
- upholding of standards; and
- allows certification when assessed against some form of criteria.
As well, in design education, the idea of a critic is an important part of the process to grow and expand students' understanding of options and make their design propositions more robust.
The justification for review in the design process is that given the complexity of competing objectives and the range of possible outcomes for any given site and brief, there is room for improvement from a fresh perspective that helps further identify strengths and improve weaknesses.
“Design review promotes good quality developments that help create better places and avoid the cost of poor design”
As part of the design process, review can be undertaken through:
- A competition where different design proposals are reviewed to test which is the best to meet a set of requirements
- The design team and wider consultant team exploring different ideas
- Community input or review during the design process
- Fellow peers' review of design - i.e. through a design review panel
- The resource consent process, assessed against public policy requirements set down in the district plan's objectives and policy directives.
A wider consideration of the project through a design review panel is a valid proposition, as this gives a perspective from outside the design and development team to help test and validate how robust a proposal is in the wider environment.
The Design Council (previously known as CABE), in the United Kingdom, identifies ten principles for a design review process :
It is connected by people who are unconnected with the scheme’s promoters and decision makers, and it ensures that conflicts of interest do not arise.
It is carried out by suitably trained people who are experienced in design and know how to criticise constructively. Review is usually most respected where it is carried out by professional peers of the project designers, because their standing and expertise will be acknowledged.
It combines the different perspectives of architects, urban designers, urban and rural planners, landscape architects, engineers and other specialist experts to provide a complete, rounded assessment.
The Review Panel and its advice must be clearly seen to work for the benefit of the public. This should be ingrained within the panel’s terms of reference.
The panel’s remit, membership, governance processes and funding should always be in the public domain.
It is used on projects whose significance, either at local or national level, warrants the investment needed to provide the service.
It takes place as early as possible in the design process, because this can avoid a great deal of wasted time. It also costs less to make changes at an early stage.
A design review panel does not make decisions, but it offers impartial advice for the people who do.
It appraises schemes according to reasoned, objective criteria rather than the stylistic tastes of individual panel members.
Its findings and advice are clearly expressed in terms that design teams, decision makers and clients can all understand and make use of.
A design review panel has been in operation in Auckland for over ten years and is now an ingrained aspect of the council’s review and approval process for proposed development. The Auckland Urban Design Panel reviews projects as part of the resource consent process and is at its most efficient when instigated at the pre-application stage of the consent process.
The review process provides both a ‘carrot and stick’ where it:
- Informs/instructs the designer and developer where a poor design process is being undertaken that is likely to lead to a poor outcome
- Supports the designer that has sometimes had to compromise a more holistic solution due to commercial imperatives that are counterproductive to good built outcomes
- Engages with the architects/designers/developers to advocate for a better urban design outcome
- Corrects a proposal that has a bias towards delivering only on the district plan requirements rather than a more holistic design-led process
- Provides guidance to the Auckland Ccouncil regulatory process regarding the suitability of a proposal
The design review process as followed by the urban design panel and based on principles of delivery, as in the case of the U.K.’s Design Council, strives to give greater political and public confidence to the council’s processes about directing better built outcomes. This has developers buying into the process where they see a strong perceived rigour, a greater depth of skill in reviewing the project, and independence from the Ccouncil.
This illustrates that the Auckland Council is serious about design-led solutions. The 'inter-view' of the project provides for a stronger, healthier and robust Auckland.