Bad design is much more noticeable than the good

While good design is hardly noticeable bad design leaves a negative and lasting legacy, said chief executive of the Design Commission for Wales Carole-Anne Davies.

Addressing a meeting of Cardiff Breakfast Club, she said having too high a budget could be just as problematic as not enough for new projects in the built environment.

She added there were a number of factors that created the conditions for good design with none of them being technical and pretty much all being cultural.

Ms Davies said: “The fundamentals are culture and it is about leadership of clients, vision, talent, a good brief and enough time and money.”

She said it was also important to have time to make mistakes, which can turn out to be fortuitous.

The chief executive said: “That time to fail, that happy accident, is really important. And in the built environment it is often missing.

“One of the trends we observe is insufficient and unrealistic budgets at the front end. This builds in a completely different type of failure… and builds in failure that is attached to high risk.

“So you need enough time and you need enough money to ensure that you can get it right. The construction industry loses billions of pounds every year, a large proportion of project spend, to critical failure and failure in the design phase. So enough money and enough time is really important.”

With public sector spending an important enabler for developments in Wales, she added: “We don’t want the risk of too high or too low budgets characterising our projects.

“Too high a budget builds in a different type of risk and money gets spent in the wrong places. People can focus not on problem solving, but too much on the decoration end.

“We have seen projects that are pretty low quality but are all in glazed brick. They look fantastic and glazed brick is really expensive, but it isn’t adding value in the project.”

She added: “It is a different kind of risk, but when you have too low a budget, then you are diminish- ing time scales and decision making. That leads to a false economy which leads to bad design.”

She told her audience at Sophia Gardens there was no such thing really as “no design” and that everything is designed “either well or badly.

She added: “What is really important about the false economy of bad design it that it can leave a really negative legacy. The thing about good design is that it is pretty much 99% invisible and provides you choice, ease and efficiency, so it is not really noticeable. However, bad design is notice- able and is there an extremely long time.”

She cited some example of well designed projects in Wales, where the Design Commission had played a collaborative role, including the latest developments at St Fagans National Museum of His- tory, the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and the St David’s 2 project in the centre of Cardiff.

She said of the latter: “This was the very first scheme we got involved in and what was really important was the mix of uses and cultural provision at the heart of the city centre, with housing and retail.

“There was a recognition from Land Securities that they needed to lock in the arts. It was not exactly painless, but probably is one of the best retail environments in the UK and a major contribution to the city, so can see all these gifts to the city come together and add value.”

On the new £120m Foster + Partners designed HQ for BBC Cymru Wales, at the Central Square scheme in the centre of Cardiff, she said: “BBC Cymru Wales were very clear in their ambitions for their building in relocating to the heart of the city. Rightacres (developer of the Central Square scheme), who came to see us in the competitive bidding process, were also very clear on the legacy they wanted to leave for the city. And several important moments of leadership have made this project what it is, but critical to all of that has been Rightacres’ approach in how they engage with stakeholders.

“So the BBC, the Design Com- mission, Cardiff council, the Welsh Government, Network Rail, you name it, Rightacres have worked really hard to keep every- one in the room and everyone talking about this project.”

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