Sunand Prasad, RIBA President 2007-09

As compared with 10 years ago there is now more acknowledgment by public and private sector clients that high quality design helps people have a better quality of life, and helps individuals and corporations to achieve more. But old attitudes die hard. Lowest initial cost rather than the best balance of quality and lifetime cost is still too often the main criterion in selecting design and construction proposals and teams. To spend taxpayers money on poor design is to waste it. That is why the RIBA’s Manifesto for Architecture, whose compilation I led, asked that good design should be a condition of all government funding. That campaign goes on and must be supported by further additions to the growing mass of evidence in health, education, workplace and the urban realm that demonstrates the value of design.

An indication of the low value placed on design is the way PFI procurement has been organised. The RIBA’s Smart PFI initiative, in which I am playing a key role, would embed design securely in the early stages of a project, instead of being left to 8 or 10 weeks during a hugely wasteful competitive process.

But, people say, design is all a matter of opinion. All those who have been through a design process, whether as clients, other stakeholders or designers know that design combines the subjective and objective. The problem is that the complexities around design are difficult to communicate, and as in any specialist subject architects and designers have developed a special language that is often impenetrable to lay people. That is why I have been closely involved in a Construction Industry Council project to develop a tool for talking design in a shared way, the Design Quality Indicator (DQI). The DQI has been adopted by the Building Schools for the Future programmes which will see every secondary school in England rebuilt or refurbished in the next 10 years – that is one school every week on average. A version of the DQI is being used in healthcare design and there are other sectoral tools in development including one for Public Space. I am particularly excited by the way the DQI is beginning to be used in the design curriculum in schools