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Interview with Fiona Hyslop: 'design can be a material consideration'

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The Scottish Government’s culture secretary Fiona Hyslop explains why it has revamped the country’s architecture policy and spells out how it goes further

Why renew Scotland’s architecture policy now?
The economic and cultural circumstances have changed markedly since the publication of Scotland’s last architecture policy statement in 2007. We’re facing a new economic reality, action on climate change continues to gather pace, and the referendum next year has stimulated a debate on our culture and heritage. 

We’re in a position now when we have to think differently to achieve our ambitions.  This involves taking innovative and creative approaches to design, placemaking and community engagement and working across Government to achieve our aims. Our role is to create conditions in which design innovation and our culture and heritage can thrive.

What does the policy hope to achieve?
The new policy document (see attached) goes further than previous policies on architecture, by including ‘place’ as a central consideration.  Focussing on place means taking a broad approach and understanding the complex relationships within all sectors that make up our built and natural environment. 

At the centre of the policy is an action plan with which we’ll measure how it is adopted locally

The architecture and place policy statement is not alone in the drive towards this greater emphasis on place - both the current Scottish Planning Policy and the National Planning Framework consultation drafts include ‘place’ and placemaking as key themes. At the centre of the policy is an action plan with which we’ll measure how the policy is adopted at a local level and how individual initiatives make a difference. 

Overall, the success of the policy will be measured in terms of how new vibrant and flourishing places influence our health, the environment, our economic potential and our sense of community and cultural identity.

Does the policy allow schemes to be rejected on purely architectural or ‘taste’ grounds?
Architecture should be judged on its quality rather than on ‘taste’, but yes, we have made it clear in the policy statement that design can be a material consideration when considering planning applications.

Design can be a material consideration when considering planning applications

However, this is not simply about design being a tool that is used to reject applications. It is also about good architecture being approved because of its design quality.  It’s about raising standards and making it easy for good schemes to be approved and making it more difficult for the poorer schemes to be move forward.  This is the direction in which we want to move.  

The policy says ‘design requirements for architecture and place making [will be] at the heart of the decision making process’. Does this guarantee architects will be used on all schemes?
Good architecture has good architects at the heart of the process. It is not for the Scottish Government to set out whether an architect is used on every scheme but what we are making clear is that high quality design is something that we want to see embedded in every new building.  The best way to achieve this is to harness and develop our existing design talent.
We want to encourage the view that design is seen as a positive investment rather than simply a necessary cost. This is somewhere where architects are well placed to demonstrate added value.  

What does the ‘prioritisation of design in public procurement’ mean?
The Scottish Government is currently undertaking a review of construction procurement. The new policy statement states our commitment to work with industry to help ensure that the outcomes of the review genuinely improve processes and outcomes. We’ve made it clear in our policy that the current economic challenges we face mean that we should not be questioning whether we can afford to invest in good design.  Instead, we have to ask, can we afford not to?  The procurement environment is evolving but what we’ve set out in our new policy document is that the Scottish Government views design as an important element in the process and a significant influence on long-term success and sustainability. 

Does committing to a ‘long-term approach to asset management’ mean the Scottish government is prepared to pay more for architectural services?
A long term approach to asset management is about making sure that we make informed decisions about building places that work for communities, for commerce and for service providers.  This is an area where Architecture and Design Scotland, which we’ve maintained our support for, and the Scottish Futures Trust have already been working.  
Issues such as where our public services are located can help to support our town centres and design can help to influence decisions that make the biggest and best impact.  It’s for reasons such as this that the Scottish Government Town Centre Review has been chaired by an architect, Malcolm Fraser.  We need to ensure that those responsible for making strategic decisions are able to take advantage of the benefits of places that are designed for people.

Can the policy ensure architects are paid appropriate fees on public and private projects?
I’m aware of the fee pressures facing architects and it’s important that clients see investing in design as central to the success of their schemes.  Our new policy document is about promoting the benefits of design and helping to better embed it within commissioning practice.  We want to help create the conditions for design to be valued and flourish and we would hope that this will benefit  the design sector more broadly.  The policy document makes it clear that properly resourcing the design element of a project is critical to the success of the scheme and on maximising investment. Design costs are low in relation to the lifetime costs of a building but design is the key factor the success of that project over the long term.

What does a design sector ‘well embedded in public sector procurement’ mean?
There is certainly a role for harnessing the expertise of architects in guiding effective briefing and we will look to engage with the profession as part of our policy commitment to develop guidance on this. 

Design can be the single most important element in the determining the long-term success of a building

Design can very often be the single most important element in the determining the long-term success of a building and in managing its costs and environmental impact.   Actions emerging from the policy statement will help to promote procurement process that take advantage of this and which support a clear and positive relationship between client and designer. 

By what methods does the Scottish government expect to work with public and private sector clients to ‘mainstream’ understanding of design?
Understanding what good design is, as well the benefits that it brings, is critical to delivering the ambition of the policy document . To support this, we have committed in the policy statement to develop a place standard which we want to see as the hallmark of well-designed schemes. 
This is not seen as a tick box approach, nor is it about telling architects how or what to design.  It is about creating a framework that supports good design and allows planning authorities and the industry to communicate about what matters in design terms.  It is about creating consistency in how design is understood and assessed, understanding the context of a place and ensuring that the response is well-designed, appropriate and deliverable

What role does the policy give to post occupancy assessment and bridging the performance gap between buildings expectations and actual performance play in delivering low carbon design?
Since its inception, architecture policy has developed and supported initiatives to help to put our policies into practical effect.  An example is Scotland’s Housing Expo in 2010 which showcased well-designed sustainable housing. 
Building on the lessons learnt, a monitoring and evaluation programme is being carried out at a sample of the Expo houses under the leadership of Architecture and Design Scotland, comparing the predicted energy use of twenty Expo houses with actual long-term performance. 
This performance monitoring project is also part of a wider project involving other low-energy housing projects in five other locations in Scotland.

What is ‘meaningful’ community participation and how can it be maintained from ‘first to last’?
Through initiatives such as our Charrette Mainstreaming Programme, we have been focussing on allowing communities to contribute to and participate in the development of designs for their local areas. 
The charrette initiative is an example of where Scottish architects and design consultants are working with local communities, planning authorities and government agencies to go beyond traditional consultation and move towards more meaningful input from local people and expert stakeholders. 
Crucially, we’ve been piloting this at the earliest stage of local development planning, where a design-led vision, created in partnership with communities, can help to set the long-term objectives and priorities for planning.  

Would the Scottish government consider taking over the role of regulating architects in Scotland as a means to help achieve these policy aims?
We’ve set out in the policy statement a commitment to consult with stakeholders on how constitutional reform might impact on the regulation of the architecture profession in Scotland. It is important that the profession makes their opinions on this subject known and we will be gathering to views on this throughout the summer and autumn. 

Could a uniquely Scottish approach to architectural education ensure architecture can be an attractive career option to young people from all backgrounds?

Other approaches to architecture education are a good example of the type of issue that we would expect to explore as part of our consultation on regulation of the profession.

However, I believe that architecture is already an attractive career option for young people, whatever their background. 

What we’re aiming to do through the policy, is to create the conditions where design is valued.  design flourishes, and design attracts talented young people to continue to develop inspiring buildings and places. 

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