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Quality in Architecture and urban design : A disputed Concept

ARCC 2011 | Considering Research: Reecting upon current themes in Architecture Research On Approaches 235
Quality in Architecture -
A Disputed Concept
Dr. Magnus Rönn,
Royal Institute of Technology,
Stockholm, Sweden
e overall aim of this article is to clarify the concept of quality in architecture and urban design. Quality in
design is connected to a set of values. e fact that the perception of quality connotes values, varies with time
and is dierent among individuals does not free professional judges from taking a stand on essential quality
questions. erefore quality in architecture and urban design appears to be a fundamentally arguable concept
that is subject to a wide range of interpretations. e hypothesis is that quality in architecture and urban design
should be understood as an open and debatable key concept resulting in disagreement and discussion. New
cases of quality arise continuously. e concept itself is value-laden and quality is interpreted with support of
value charged criteria. Quality is something positive which meets with public approval. is type of knowledge
is obtained by having good examples and interesting cases pointed out. e target is high quality. A special
historical understanding is needed to reach this goal. e concept of quality even reects the holistic approach of
the architectural profession to design projects. e built environment is of public interest. us there are dierent
interpretations of the meaning of the concept quality, its scope and status.
CONFERENCE THEME: On Approaches, e role and use of philosophy in architectural research.
KEYWORDS: Architectural quality, Architecture, Design, Judgment, Essentially contested concept.
“Objective elements shouldn’t be relied on initially. Instead ‘go for quality rst’ he said and meant
that quality judgments were preferable” (Hemlin et al, 1990, p 59). at statement made by an
expert when appointing a professor of architecture hits the nail on the head: what is quality in
architecture and urban design? What do architects mean when they talk about quality? How do they
understand architectural quality?
In this paper I will discuss and clarify the concept of quality. e purpose is to demonstrate and
explain how the questions of quality in architecture and urban design can be understood from a
European point of view. Architecture is a eld of knowledge embedded with values. Quality
represents something good, a well-designed object. But what does it mean? e theory is that
architectural quality as a key concept is basically disputable; this shows up in the design and appraisal
of architecture and urban design projects as well as when the built environment is evaluated.
e Swedish National Encyclopaedia gives several dierent examples of this concept. is can be
used as a starting point. Quality can, rstly, be seen as a set of good attributes. Object O can be
described as attractive: “O is of good quality”, “O has several good characteristics” or “O has a
high and even quality”. Quality may also have negative implications: “O is of poor quality” or “O
unfortunately has many shortcomings”. A comparison may reveal that object O 1 is worth more than
object O 2. ese examples have in common that quality is a concept related to evaluation that can
be open or hidden in a message. Quality is a trait that either is good, bad or missing. In this case we
want to be able to judge the worth of products and services.
Secondly, quality can be related to personal capacities, knowledge or inner characteristics of specic
individuals. A person P may be described as being quality-conscious or well informed about quality
questions. Examples of such descriptions are “P is an excellent artistic leader”, “P is a skilled architect
with exceptional feelings for using concrete material” or “P is an exciting architect who has been
winning several international design competitions.” Quality in this sense has an evaluation aspect. It
is a sign of competence based on an ability to judge aesthetic dimensions. Good judgment in quality
questions results in condence.
ARCC 2011 | Considering Research: Reecting upon current themes in Architecture Research236 On Approaches
irdly, quality can be understood as a specic relationship to a place. It is typical for architecture
and urban design. In this case quality is attributed to projects that represent a whole and t into a
unique context. is perspective is found in architectural policy programs in Europe. e Danish
Architecture policy, A Nation of Architecture Denmark, from 2007 is an illustrative example. According
to the policy program, there is a ”widespread agreement that architectural quality is experienced
when form, function and building techniques are brought together and implemented in a complete,
artistic idea. Architecture of a high quality relates to the surroundings as a co-player or as a challenger.
e architecture stresses, strengthens and interprets the cultural character and uniqueness of the
surroundings.” (p 9) From this point of view, there are no general answers to architectural quality
issues. Places always have unique characteristics. For this reason, quality must be design based on
the understanding of the existing architectural qualities of the plot, surrounding buildings and the
Fourthly, quality can refer to a certain type of material or technological production of a product.
Perhaps as a customer I want to know how the quality was determined, what material was used or
which performances the technical solutions should meet. e answer from the salesperson, supplier
and manufacturer could very well be “product P is a quality product which has received quality
award Q”. at means that P has been approved after testing according to a number of quality
requirements. We get a quality concept that is specied with the help of measurable parameters. e
point of departure is the idea of quality as something which can be assured by specic procedures;
quality work, quality controls and quality management. Right quality is dened as zero defects. But
it is not enough just to deliver the ordered products to generate a positive experience of quality. More
is required if you want good quality. e design has to be connected to positive experiences and seen
as valuable in the environment. Instead of looking for defects in products the design phase becomes
a strategic phase in the production process.
e four statements link architectural quality to values, knowledge, places and quality assurance
procedures. Quality is therefore understood from dierent perspectives. At the same time there is a
common goal saying that architecture should be both enjoyed and suit its purpose. Since architecture
has use as its goal it combines artistic ambitions and intentions with requirements for functions,
method, material and economic solutions. e concept has both aesthetic and technical dimensions.
e quality concept may be compared with soap in the bath water. When we try to establish what
architectural quality is, clarity slips between our ngers. Good solutions to design problems are
visible, can be experienced and can be pointed out. But they are very hard to grasp. ere is something
that escapes, is ambiguous, in the phenomenon and usage of the concept. Fault free and correctly
dimensioned plans do not guarantee that a structure results in a positive quality experience. A well
proofread manuscript free of typographical errors does not necessarily communicate an interesting
message to the reader. Quality has to be more than zero defects. Absent friends do not promote good
feelings. We need a generator. ere must be an enhanced value for the object, an addition to the
environment that communicates a feeling of quality to the user. is points back to the very heart of
the concept of quality in architecture and urban design.
is paper is about how we can understand quality as a key-concept in architecture and urban design
in a fruitful way. e methods are “close” reading of documents (architectural policy programs,
competition documents and referral opinions regarding changes in building legislation), conceptual
analysis and re-use of interviews carried out 2005-2007. 18 experienced jury members, architects
and urban planners, from Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden were interviewed in a Nordic
study on contemporary architectural competition (Rönn, 2010). e theoretical framework for the
investigation consists of Gallie’s idea of “essentially contested concepts”, which he published in 1956
in e Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society and in 1964 in the book Philosophy and the Historical
Understanding. Gallie provides a tool for the analyses of quality and how this concept is used in the
building sector.
ARCC 2011 | Considering Research: Reecting upon current themes in Architecture Research On Approaches 237
My reason for re-using interviews and documents in the investigation is the belief that praxis reveals
how professional practitioners speak, think and act in quality issues. In architectural and urban
design quality concepts are communicated through drawings, sketches, illustrations, photomontages,
plans, and descriptive texts. Quality is a dynamic concept, changing as new models are introduced,
established and scrutinized. ere are also many answers to the question of quality in architecture
and urban design. But even if quality is dicult to grasp, there are a number of fundamental criteria
from which to start. ese criteria are about how design ideas are expressed and how they inuence
the public, users, clients or citizens. Architects and urban planners use criteria to identify, interpret
experience, understand and judge signs of quality in the design eld. Prize-winning architecture and
urban design are all based on this assumption. e premises is that quality is a concept which can be
judged in society; there are undertakings, structures and environments created to be attractive, arouse
interest and be of value in some way.
roughout Western history, starting with philosophers in ancient Greece, quality is perceived as a
conict between an objective and a subjective position; as a relationship between objects and how
we perceive them through our senses. e objective position can be seen as speaking of qualities and
means an impartial judgment devoid of self-interest. But that is not the same as saying that quality
is found in the objects and their designs. e demand for objectivity only means that the quality
assessment shall be based on facts and without bias. Objectivity in this case is an expression of honesty
and the pursuit of truth on behalf of the judge. It should also be possible to control objective quality
assessment in an acceptable way. But objectivity is not something that is either present or missing in
an assessment; it is a scientic standard. It is a norm met to varying degrees when discussing quality
in artistic undertakings, architectural works and designed environments.
A subjective position need not be problematic as long as the departure point is a personal meeting.
Credibility in such quality assessments can be sought with the person who passes judgment and
how it is justied. e subjective position is an aesthetic choice and is justied through learning and
knowledge. e more educated the assessor is the more credibility is given to the subjective quality
experiences. We trust the assessments of well-educated and experienced persons with good judgment.
Quality as an experience requires an individual encounter with the undertakings and works; that a
relationship is established which inuences people. ere are even some collective traits in people’s
quality experience related to their cultural backgrounds and professional practice.
us far linguistic usage doesn’t present any great diculties. Architectural quality is about
distinguishing, describing, interpreting, understanding and explaining to the people around you
what is good, better or poor in undertakings and structures. It sounds like a reasonable programme.
e problem arises when we want to deepen the discussion in order to understand quality as a key-
concept. en the answer is no longer so obvious. To identify quality in product design, architecture
and urban design in a meaningful way we need to choose a point of departure for the questions.
Gallie oers a starting point for the discussion, a theoretical framework that gives meaning to quality
conicts in the building sector. We can learn about these dierences by investigating how designers,
architects and urban planners express quality. Which qualities can be demonstrated in artistic
undertakings, architectural works and urban environments? How can the qualities in the environment
be made accessible for credible assessments? To what extent may we trust quality evaluations? ese
crucial questions force us back to the starting point: how can quality be understood in architecture
and urban design in a meaningful way?
Architectural quality appears to be a basically contestable key concept with a wide range of
interpretations in architecture and urban design. ese thoughts were launched by Gallie (1956) and
later by Janek (1991). Gallie was a British social theorist, political theorist and philosopher. He was
a professor at three dierent universities. It was Gallie who rst coined the expression “essentially
contested concepts”. is is a concept that leads to endless disputes about the correct meaning of
the notion. Linguistic usage has both aggressive and defensive traits. Such is the case with debates
about art, democracy and championship. Gallie uses championship as an enlightening example. In
the world of sports, championship is considered to be something appreciated and valuable, a winning
ARCC 2011 | Considering Research: Reecting upon current themes in Architecture Research238 On Approaches
concept. e concept changes meaning according to the circumstances. Championship is not only
about being best on the eld. A champion should also ght well and win the public’s heart.
Gallie’s description of an essentially contested concept ts quality well. In architecture and urban
design, quality appears as a contested concept. e building sector is composed of professionals
with dierent opinions about what quality is and how the concept should be understood. Architects
use three types of rhetoric when describing quality: an oensive (aggressive) usage which attempts
to create interpretation advantages. Architects usually claim they are best at designing and judging
quality in architecture and the built environment. ere is a defensive rhetoric. Architectural quality
in society is seen as an overall intention, which the profession guards by means of general language.
e defenders try to coordinate the dierent interested parties with a common ambition. High quality
is the requirement. e rhetoric is also used to disarm potential opponents. is is the third type. Few
would like to deny the need for a good built environment. It is the positive value implications in the
concept that give quality its unifying function. us, for example, architectural quality has been used
as a common goal for the Danish architectural policy programme (Nygaad, 2006).
When architectural quality is considered as an essentially contested concept eight rhetorical functions
appear. ese signs are evident in linguistic usage, both in the interpretation of design projects, in a
rm’s internal policy document and in the European architectural policy programme, which can be
found on the homepage of the European Forum for Architectural Policies (
php?lg=en). A close study of policy programs in northern Europe shows how quality is understood
in architecture and urban design. Here I would like to point out eight specic functions connected
to quality as a key concept with support of Gallie:
An open concept
Architectural quality is an open concept built on knowledge. To know what architectural quality is
means that one can recognize, explain and account for illustrative examples. Knowledge about quality
is obtained through education, professional practice and research. New examples of quality arise
continuously in architecture and urban design. Changes create the need for revising, reinterpreting
and specifying the contents of the quality concept. ere is no nal denition of what characterizes
good solutions for design problems in architecture and urban design. e concept becomes
meaningful through continuous dialogue. Communication is a prerequisite for architectural quality
to continue to be a knowledge-based key concept, both for the profession and societal debate.
Architectural quality as an open concept creates uncertainty. In architectural competitions for
example the jury must be able to read and interpret drawings, drafts, illustrations and scale models.
e challenge lies in understanding the competition’s task and the design problems. Qualities in the
design solutions become wicked problems (Churchman, 1967, Rittel & Webber, 1973). Wicked
problems cannot be solved by traditional analyses. It is impossible to objectively evaluate the solution
as being right or wrong. Churchman (1967) describes wicked problems in a social planning context
as ill-dened problems that have unique causes, nature and solutions.
Design as a professional practice is embedded with wicked problems. e judgment is based on an
open concept. You cannot dene and understand design problems out of their specic context. e
solution and the problem are connected to each other in architecture and urban design. is point
is demonstrated by Cross (1992) when he is quoting an architect who says: ”I don’t think you can
design anything just by absorbing information and then hoping to synthesise it into a solution.
What you need to know about the problem only becomes apparent as you’re trying to solve it” (p
21). Typical for architecture and urban design is also that there are always many good solutions to
the same design problem. One solution is, generally, never overwhelmingly better than another in
competitions. is is a wicked problem from the jury’s perspective in competitions. Since there are
several good solutions to choose from, the jury’s quality judgment will be marked by insecurity, a
fundamental doubt that normally remains up until the nal assessment. is uncertainty is typical
among the jury members in architectural competitions where you have to nd a winner and it is a
consequence of quality as an open concept.
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Promoting debates
Architectural quality is a concept that promotes debate. ere are basic discrepancies in the dierent
views of quality. e concept is controversial. Disagreement is a driving force. e breadth of the
linguistic usage reects the dierent attitudes toward what quality is, how quality work should
be carried out and how quality goals should be expressed in the design of architectural and town
building projects. At the bottom of the disagreement lies the desire to steer the agenda in order to
acquire interpretation seniority, status in society and assignments. Architects maintain that they are
best qualied to judge architectural quality thanks to their education and professional experience.
Since there is no single way to solve conceptual dierences the debate can continue forever. At
the same time there is a need for common understanding within the professional building sector.
Building is a collective process accomplished by many professional groups. Shortcomings in quality
must be avoided during all phases. With this in mind a debate about quality is used to clarify the
concept and help dene appropriate criteria for the design and assessment of projects.
In the building sector the discussion on quality has an aesthetic dimension and a technical dimension.
is is a typical foundation for disagreements between architects and engineers at construction
companies, at least in Nordic countries. e aesthetic dimension of quality in architecture and urban
design is a question of experience and evaluation. e technical dimension of quality concerns traits
in products that can be controlled during the production process. ese two aspects are very dicult
to unite in a quality concept. ere is disagreement as to what architectural quality is, how appealing
environments can be created, and how they should be assessed. I think we have to accept the fact
that there are dierent ways to understand the concept of quality. ey represent dierent kinds
of knowledge. Both the aesthetic dimension and a technical dimension are therefore legitimate in
architectural design and construction. Based on this insight we should build “conceptual bridges” to
ensure better understanding between the key players in the building sector.
e aesthetic dimension dominated the debate in Denmark during the 1990s. e architectural
community launched architectural quality as an oensive and future-oriented solution to the problem
of quality shortcomings in building (Nygaard, 2006; Christofersen, 2007). Architectural quality
was a goal that had a signicant impact thanks to its positive force and ability to dene a common
direction for architectural policy. e aesthetic dimension in the concept received status and was
included in the policy programmes in Denmark (1994 in Danish Architecture, in Architecture 1996
and 2007 in Nation of Architecture Denmark). In Swedish discourse shortcomings in building were
seen primarily as technical problems. It was expected that promoters and building rms provide the
solutions. In 1994, requirements for quality responsibility were incorporated into the planning and
building laws. Shortcomings in quality were redressed through measurable requirements, internal
controls, and certicates. e reforms stemmed from a technically oriented concept. e aesthetic
aspects of the quality concept were highlighted later on in the Swedish debate. at was in 1997
when the government proposed a national policy for architecture and design called Forms for the
future (Framtidsformer).
Charged with values
Architectural quality is a concept charged with values. “is is quality” is a judgment expressed in a
complimentary way. e concept infers valuation. Quality is seen as something basically positive,
even if often expressed in terms of good/bad and beautiful/unattractive. Such values express
either approval or dislike. Quality is then bound to values, which in a decisive way stray from the
normalized quality concept incorporated into the ISO 9000 (standard). Quality in this technical
perspective is seen as general characteristics, function and performance. ey are characteristics that
can be measured, guaranteed and controlled (Nashed, 2005; Nelson, 2006). e record is the proof
of quality. is is regarded as evidence for how a proposal meets the specications. e strategy is
fault minimization. In this case quality is an operative concept used for controlling, dening and
measuring qualities in terms of right and wrong. e dierence in viewpoint may be described as
the right quality and good quality. ey represent two diametrically opposed ways of relating to the
quality concept in the building sector. e right quality means zero defects. Requirements have been
implemented. e delivery corresponds to the quality specications. A product of good quality is
ARCC 2011 | Considering Research: Reecting upon current themes in Architecture Research240 On Approaches
accredited with positive worth and has a certain number of desirable characteristics for someone or
something. Good quality assumes that the delivered product is experienced as attractive or appealing.
Value-charged design criteria
Architectural quality is a concept that is interpreted with the help of value-charged design criteria.
Architecture is judged from criteria which include opinions, values, ideals and impressions of
desirable characteristics. us a building project may be evaluated externally using quality design
criteria based on requirements for suitability to the surroundings, natural materials and a design that
spreads joy to the users and visitors. According to Birgit Cold (1989), professor at the Department
of Architecture at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, quality is usually ascribed to
beautiful buildings with well thought through functions. at is an example of value-charged criteria
describing an architectural attitude that includes values such as wholeness, durability, adjustment to
the surroundings, genuineness, aesthetic honesty, beauty, readability, usefulness and professionalism.
News-worthiness and originality are criteria that encourage renewal of traditions and overstepping
conventions and experience-based professional guidelines.
Another type of value-charged design criteria was found in a Nordic study of architectural
competitions at the School of Architecture and the Built Environment in Stockholm 2005-2008.
e evaluation criteria in briefs were examined during 1999-2000 (Rönn 2010). ese criteria vary
from competition to competition. But there was also a stable pattern, a number of design criteria,
which appeared time and again in competitions and inuenced the jury’s quality judgment on a
deeper level. All competition entries, in principle, were judged by these design criteria even if they
were not specically outlined in the competition programme. e following design criteria were
found in almost every competition brief and jury statement: Wholeness and fundamental idea; is there
a powerful design idea in the project? Coherence and surroundings; how do the proposals t the site?
Entrance position; how has the competitor solved the entry into the area, site and buildings? Suitability
and functional set up; how has the competitor solved the spatial organization in relation to the planned
activities? Economical and technical solutions; How is the proposal technically produced? Development
possibilities; To what extent can the proposal be further developed? ese design criteria are part of
an assessment based on dialogue and have two principal functions. ey tell the jury members what
is important to judge and how to proceed. e rst step is to direct the juror’s attention. is is the
“what”. e second step is a question and represents the “how”. e jury acquires knowledge by
posing questions about the proposal. Quality in architecture and urban design is revealed by these
design criteria, representing professional ideas about good design.
Learning form
Architectural quality is part of a learning form related to design and critical review. Knowledge is
developed and expressed by design and the assessment of solutions. is evaluation of architecture
and urban design is not true or false. Architectural values cannot be controlled as being scientically
right or wrong. ere is simply no empirical support for such conclusions. On the other hand, it is
of course possible to formulate well-founded and plausible judgments about what is good for some
(designers, clients, end-users) in a specic context. is is what the jury members do in architectural
competitions when they select a single winner after examining the best design solutions. Competent
assessors, with broad experience from similar cases, may examine quality in terms of goal fullment,
eciency, usefulness, technology, artistry and economy. e purpose is not to portray reality but to
develop models, concepts and criteria to facilitate the two main aspects of quality work: design and
assessment. Quality is visualized and identied by seeing, comparing and interpreting. It is learning
based on designated good examples, instructive cases, architectural reviews, critique and reections
about ideal solutions to design problems. Juries for architectural competitions use scale models in
their nal assessments when choosing a contest winner. Scale models are made of the best entries.
ese enable the jury to see with their own eyes how the solutions will suit the site. Such models also
enable the jury to pose clear quality questions to the participants. It’s learning by seeing quality rather
than by looking at drawings and illustrations.
ARCC 2011 | Considering Research: Reecting upon current themes in Architecture Research On Approaches 241
The whole
Architectural quality is the combination of elements that form a whole. is is fundamental for the
assessment of projects, especially in early stages. Quality in architecture and urban design is seen
as a holistic idea among professionals. Here quality is viewed upon as an overlapping summary: a
composite entity of aesthetic dimensions and technical aspects along with requirements for economy,
environmental friendliness and social conditions. According to this view it is a combination of
aesthetics, technology, economy and environment in a working entity that characterizes the quality
concept in the eld of design. It is typical for architectural practitioners in the Nordic countries. ey
understand the concept as a contradiction to the idea of quality as one of several limited aspects of
design in architecture, urban design and town planning projects.
e idea of quality as an overlapping and composite entity is a consistent theme in the statement
of the 1997 investigation Architectural Quality (Arkitektonisk kvalitet) from e National Board of
Housing, Building and Planning (Boverket). e Swedish association for architect and engineering
rms (arkitekt- och ingenjörsföretagen) states that architectural quality should include aesthetic,
functional, technical and social qualities as well as environmental and economical considerations.
e Swedish Local Council Organization (Svenska Kommunförbundet) maintains that good
architecture can be recognized by the successful blending of aesthetic, functional, economic and
technical requirements. e County Government Board (Länsstyrelsen) in Kalmar states that
architectural quality is a concept that has a wider scope than just aesthetic design. According to e
County Government Board, architectural quality also includes the building’s design with regard to
function, material, building technology and adaptation to the surroundings.
A specialized way of using history
Architectural quality is part of a specialized way of using history in practice. Architectural history
produces models for understanding design problems. Time does not move in only one direction.
Architects are free to refer to timeless values in new assignments. ere is a practical usefulness built
into architectural history. Impressions of ageless values are characteristic of their times and solutions.
Vitruvius, who was a Roman architect and builder, formulated a quality idea which is everlasting for
the architectural profession. Vitruvius describes architecture as an indivisible combination of beauty
(venustas), function (utilitas) and construction (rmitas). It is a 2000 year-old tradition that is still
ourishing, a canon to posterity that architects continuously refer to in their profession. e quality
of architecture lies in the special way the unit is composed with regard to aesthetic form, function and
construction. is is a professional, cultural and historically dened way of understanding quality in
architecture and urban design (Rönn, 2009).
e historically inuenced idea of quality has a practical point of departure. History is a useful
subject. e history of architecture is a heritage of many instructive examples. ey may be used
as reference points for new assignments and inspiration for solutions to design problems. Even
quality concepts typical for certain times such as classicism, national romanticism, functionalism,
modernism, brutalism, postmodernism, deconstructionism, and new functionalism contain timeless
elements in new settings. e everlasting in design is the result of proportions, volume, scale,
sight-line, balance, harmony, rhythm and movement. e notion reects architecture’s Vitruvian
relationship to fundamental quality questions. e relationships between forms, function, material
and construction must be continuously worked on and critically examined.
Interests and design power
Architectural quality is an idea linked to interests in society and design power in the building sector.
Power is portrayed through architecture. Quality is produced by actors with dierent ideas about
the notion’s content, scope and status. A balance between private and public interests in planning
and building laws is part of the balance of design power in society. is balance inuences the reach
and direction of quality work in architecture and urban design projects. Ocial statements about
proposed changes in legislation are enlightening. Viewpoints concerning the 1997 investigation of
architectural quality from e National Board of Housing, Building and Planning are informative.
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Several Swedish authorities, including the Gothenburg Town Planning Oce (Byggnadsnämnden
i Göteborg), wanted to see the law changed so that roads, streets, bridges, town squares and public
areas would be subject to architectural quality requirements. ose who oppose this viewpoint
consider quality to be a private issue and would rather see the power of public authorities limited.
is controversial question also touches upon the extent to which the concept of quality should
include aesthetic, cultural-historical, technical, social, environmental and economical aspects.
In its statement Jönköping’s County Administration argues that it needs competence in architectural
quality when granting building permissions and physical planning. e county administration means
they need a city architect at the county level to coordinate the dierent interest groups in the planning
process to reach comprehensive architectural solutions. e Swedish building owner’s association
(Sveriges Fastighetsägare) on the other hand doesn’t wish to see any changes in the law that would
interfere with their right of disposition over their buildings. e crucial point is who should decide
what architectural quality is. On this matter the building owners association and the home owners
(Villaägarnas Riksförbund) association are very clear. e decision should lie with the private owner
not the architectural organization, county town planning oce or politically appointed persons.
According to the National Homeowners’ Association, building permission for the detail plan may
never be undermined due to unpredictable, vague and poorly dened aesthetic requirements. e
county should not be able to impose its aesthetic values on a home owner. Criticism of unpredictable
requirements would be troublesome if architectural quality should include aesthetic and technical
aspects as well as economical, social and environmental features in the design of the surroundings.
From the descriptions it can be argued that the structure of the notion of quality is an “essentially
contested concept”. Quality has a structure that leads to debate, dierences and doubt. But to
discuss the concept in a professional context as systematically as possible it is necessary to build up
serious conceptions of what should or should not be considered quality in architecture and urban
design. e life span and stationary situation of a building makes it available as a public text-book
on quality. e notion is also developed through discussion among stakeholders. rough historical
retrospect you can learn about the quality ideas that were the focal point of debate during various
periods and how architects used these models. Equally interesting is the study of quality questions
which recur in the choice of solutions to design problems in architecture and town planning projects.
is enables an analysis of vital ideas connected to the concept.
Professionals need well-founded recommendations describing how quality ideas should be understood
and carried out in projects. But not a formula with clear-cut criteria for what is “right” or “poor”
design, but to nd an appropriate solution to a design problem. e connection is very important
because it gives meaning to the concept of quality. Architecture is an applied art. Architects and
clients should both meet the end-users’ needs for a well designed space. e global goal is use. e
assignment should result in surroundings utilized by people. Clarity and coherency in the design
of architectural and town planning projects are aesthetic preconditions for the future utilization of
environs. erefore, good solutions rely upon knowledge of the cultural setting where the project
e architect’s task during the planning process is to give the project the characteristics, which upon
completion – with application – generate well thought out values and experiences of architectural
quality. e underlying idea is that already in the design stage, before production, the drawings
and models enable you to predict future impressions. e ability to design and assess architectural
qualities that can be realized in projects and are evident when the consumer uses the building should
be the core of professional competence. at is the fundamental challenge for education, professional
practice and research in architecture and urban design. I hope that my investigation, demonstration
and discussion of architectural quality as a key concept can contribute to this challenge. e concept
has to communicate quality in architecture and urban design in a meaningful way in order to be
useful in practice.
ARCC 2011 | Considering Research: Reecting upon current themes in Architecture Research On Approaches 243
I am grateful to Lynn Taylor Edman who has examined the language of this conference paper.
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Electronic sources
Homepage with bibliographic information about W. B. Gallie 2011-02-14:
Homepage with bibliographic information about C. W. Churchman 2011-02-14:
European Forum for Architectural policies 2010-01-01
ISO 2010-10-01:
Nationalencykopendin 2010-01-01
Quality Gurus 2010-01-01
... Одним из наиболее важных аспектов стратегии проектирования является изучение текущего состояния изучаемого элемента [3], все спортивные сооружения в г. Алеппо описаны в табл. ...
... Согласно процентным соотношениям: сильные разрушения составляют 15 % районов города, более 40 % городских районов были частично разрушены (рис.) 3 . ...
... Western part of the city was under the control of the Syrian army, that's why the eastern part suffered worse damage. Now it's difficult to get accurate numbers, but as estimated by UN, currently there are 1.6 million people [3], and over the last 3 years 600,000 people returned to the place. In this study we assume that all inhabitants will return there within the next 10 years. ...
Full-text available
Introduction. Architectural quality is required at all design stages: from the layout to its implementation, but in particular cases it (high quality) becomes a primary objective. That is why in this article we emphasize the idea of architectural quality and its particular importance in the strategy of sports facilities design in Aleppo, which, in their turn, will help the population get back into physical shape and resume peaceful life. Materials and methods. The study has been conducted on the basis of analysis of published sources that have been studied theoretically. The following materials have been studied: Aleppo aerial photography based on published survey, conducted by the organization UN-HABITAT as an addition to the information from Syrian Statistical Office, Ministry of Local Administration and Environment and Local Decision Support Center from 2011 till 2019. Results. Current condition of sports facilities in Aleppo has been studied for the following criteria: number, quality and technical condition. Because of use of such architectural quality criteria as context, experience and scale in the design strategy, mentioned in study, the optimal model of sports facility has been reached from the point of view of architectural form and its social-sport role for the environment. Conclusions. In all times, sport played and still plays an essential role in successful social life. That is why sports facilities are the first step that becomes a necessary condition for fulfilling that role. Currently, Syria experiences the reconstruction stage in all types of construction, and the most important now is to restore the society, and this is why at this stage the idea of architectural quality is essential for getting a model of ideal sports facility.
... Whilst some argue everything in design can be the subject of rational enquiry (Schumacher 2011), it remains that quality is an arguable concept, open to a wide range of interpretations (Rönn 2011). Carmona (2016b) argues it will mean different things to different people. ...
Design review is an independent expert-led mechanism, employed to evaluate the design quality of proposed developments. It claims an objective and transparent approach, yet has limited guidance on how, or what, reviewers should evaluate. Few studies focus on these reviewers or their attitudes and perceptions to the process. This research, using interviews and Q-Methodology, reveals key differences in how reviewers conceptualize and evaluate design quality within review. The paper argues design review is a contested mechanism, where subjective appraisal plays out alongside more objective approaches. Four competing reviewer priorities on the process are presented: sustainability; people/public; function; and visual aesthetics.
... According to the Swedish Planning and Building Act (PBA) it is mandated to the local authority to plan the use of Swedish land and water to ensure the quality of the built environment. The concept of 'quality' in architecture and urban design is theoretically complex and subject to a wide range of interpretations (Rönn 2010). However, among practitioners the term 'architectural quality' is commonly associated with building proportions, façade materials and the design of particular features such as the ground floor, roofs and eaves and 'urban design quality' is more closely associated with city block structures, street spaces and the specifics of the site surroundings such as noise pollution. ...
Full-text available
The industrialized house-building movement has emerged as a response to recurring criticism of the construction sector. It seeks to emulate management practices prevalent in manufacturing industries,including the use of standardized work processes and building systems.This approach does, however, make industrialized house-building contractors susceptible to unpredictable variations. Swedish local planning authorities have a legal and democratic mandate to regulate the built environment within its borders and views variations between different municipalities as a desirable consequence of a functional local democratic system. Meanwhile, industrialized house-building contractors have highlighted variations in regulation of the built environment as obstructive to their intended methods of managing the building process. The aim of this thesis is to increase understanding of how local planning authorities make interpretations when regulating the built environment and how those interpretations influence industrialized house-building contractors and to, within the ongoing research process, identify theoretical perspectives suitable for describing tensions in the interface between industrialized house-building and local planning authorities. The theoretical frame of reference for this thesis consists of two major streams of organizational literature:organizational coordination, operationalized though the concept of coordination mechanisms, and neo-institutional theory, operationalized through institutional logics and institutional complexity. The overarching research strategy is best described as a case study approach investigating cases of institutional complexity in regulation of the Swedish built environment. The design consists of one multi-case study relying on interviews with representatives of industrialized house-building contractors and local planning authorities and one single-case study investigating a longitudinal land development process using a combination of interviews, direct observations and document analysis. Findings indicate that local planning authorities face institutional complexity stemming from three semi-compatible institutional logics that each prescribe different roles for planning practitioners and expectations for their behaviour. As some planning practitioners are more attuned to particular logics than others, it is difficult to predict, for each given situation, which logic will be activated. Furthermore, findings indicate that institutional logics can be viewed as coordination mechanisms, thereby highlighting a fundamental tension between the coordination preferences of industrialized house-building contractors and local planning authorities.This tension causes a lack of accountability, predictability and common understanding resulting in an inability for industrialized house-building contractors and local planning authorities to coordinate their contributions in the planning and building process. The findings imply that industrialized house-building contractors and local planning authorities should attempt to acknowledge each other’s participation in and contributions to the planning and building process. The findings also highlight the importance of interpretations for regulation of the built environment, which implies that not all sector-wide problems can or need be solved through legislative action.
... The materials in EcoEffect, on the other hand, would need to be tested in the assessment programme or emission data would have to be calculated. Any material changes would in general alter the architectural design, since materials are of great importance for the architectural quality of buildings (Nygaard, 2002;Rönn, 2010). Material innovation such as steel, carbon fibre, or low thermal emissivity glass has sometimes changed the architectural expression of buildings and in that sense driven architectural design forward. ...
This thesis explores Neighbourhood and Building Environmental Assessment Tools’ (NBEATs) function as assessment tools and decision support, and their relation to environment, architecture and architects. This is done by analysing, testing, and discussing a number of NBEATs (LEED-NC, Code for Sustainable Homes, EcoEffect, LEED-ND, BREEAM-C, and ENSLIC-tool), their manuals and use. Moreover, professionals’ (architects’) self-rated opinions regarding use and knowledge of NBEATs and environmental aspects are surveyed. Similarities and differences in NBEATs are found regarding: content, structure, weighting and indicators used. Indicators distinguished as procedure, performance and feature are used to varying extents to assess social, environmental and technical aspects. NBEATs relation to environmental sustainability has limitations due to: non-transparency, tradable indicators, relative measures, low criteria levels, limited life cycle perspective, and exclusion of relevant environmental aspects, such as embedded toxic substances, nutrient cycles, land use change, and ecosystem services. Ratings and architecture are influenced by NBEATs in varying ways. Higher criteria levels would probably increase their impact on architecture. Thus more research regarding NBEATs and links to architectural design, theory and practice is welcomed. There is limited use of NBEATs as decision support in early design phases such as in architectural competitions. Architects rate the importance of environmental aspects high, but few rate their skill in handling environmental aspects high. This calls for increasing knowledge and know-how of environmental strategies and solutions among architects and adaptation of NBEATs to early design processes. The values NBEATs reflect and the values we want them to create is also important. To support ‘environmental’ architecture, an increased socio-eco-technological system perspective is put forward, and other measures besides NBEATs are needed. Link to the thesis:
... According to the Swedish Planning and Building Act (PBA) it is mandated to the local authority to plan the use of Swedish land and water to ensure the quality of the built environment. The concept of 'quality' in architecture and urban design is theoretically complex and subject to a wide range of interpretations (Rönn 2010). However, among practitioners the term 'architectural quality' is commonly associated with building proportions, façade materials and the design of particular features such as the ground floor, roofs and eaves and 'urban design quality' is more closely associated with city block structures, street spaces and the specifics of the site surroundings such as noise pollution. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
We explore how Swedish Local Planning Authorities perceive standardized housing construction and attempt to use an ideal type typology of institutional logics to describe how Local Planning Authorities make use of the multiple institutional logics available to them. Increased standardization in Swedish housing construction has been suggested as a means to meet the growing need for housing with reasonable rent levels. However, housing contractors that use standardization and repetition of processes and components claim that the variation of requirements set by Local Planning Authorities prevents them from taking full advantage of their standardization. A recent empirical study of standardized housing contractors’ perceptions suggests that Local Requirement Setting, the requirement setting practices of Local Planning Authorities, are interpretational responses to a lack of familiarity with standardized housing construction. Yet, Local Planning Authorities’ perceptions of standardized housing construction have never previously been explored. Empirical material for this on-going study was collected through in-depth exploratory interviews with local planning officers from three municipalities situated in Swedish population growth regions. Findings suggest that Local Planning Authorities perceive potential benefits with standardization, but ultimately expect standardized housing concepts to adapt to local standards for processes and products. In projects with high ambitions for architectural quality standardized housing concepts need to be highly flexible. Conversely, highly standardized housing concepts benefit from project ambitions that favour reasonable rent levels. Therefore, Local Requirement Setting is indicative of a mismatch between the Local Planning Authority’s project ambitions and the standardized housing contractor’s degree of product standardization.
Om diktkonsten (On the art of Poetry) Uddevalla: Anamma. Arkitektur 1996 (Architecture 1996) Brønby: Bygge-, og boligstyrelsen
  • Aristoteles
Aristoteles, (1994) Om diktkonsten (On the art of Poetry) Uddevalla: Anamma. Arkitektur 1996 (Architecture 1996) Brønby: Bygge-, og boligstyrelsen.
Arkitektonisk kvalitet och PBL, samband och reformbehov (Architectural quality and PBL, and related reform needs)
  • Boverket
Boverket (1997). Arkitektonisk kvalitet och PBL, samband och reformbehov (Architectural quality and PBL, and related reform needs). Kalmar-SundTryck: Boverket. Rapport 1997:1 Cold, B. (1989). "Om arkitektur og kvalitet" (On architecture and quality), Tidskrift för arkitekturforskning, Nr 1-2.
Om arkitektur og kvalitet
  • B Cold
Cold, B. (1989) "Om arkitektur og kvalitet" (On architecture and quality), Tidskrift för arkitekturforskning, Nr 1-2.
Arkitektonisk kvalitet (Architectural quality)
  • L K Christoffersen
Christoffersen, L. K. (2007). Arkitektonisk kvalitet (Architectural quality). Aarhus: Arkitektskolen i Aarhus.
Kvalitetssikring sparer omkostninger i salg, produktion og administration (Quality saves costs in sales, marketing and administration), Københamn
  • P B Crosby
Crosby, P. B. (1981) Kvalitetssikring sparer omkostninger i salg, produktion og administration (Quality saves costs in sales, marketing and administration), Københamn; Instituttet for Lederskab og Lønsomhed.
Danish Architectural Policy)
  • Dansk Arkitekturpolitik
Dansk Arkitekturpolitik (1994) (Danish Architectural Policy). København: Kulturministeriets Publikationscentral.