DT: The built environment sector is littered with reports and studies. How do we make this one ‘actionable’? Is there one thing from it that you would say is an easy win for it to be implementable?
SM: This is about giving people a tool. The point is that anybody can use it. It is in easy language. It’s saying to developers, it’s saying to communities, and it's saying to councils: here are things that you can do. So, the idea is that it's easily actionable by any one of those three groups of people. And we've already had communities speak to us and say: ‘oh my God, we think it's fantastic – we’re already going to try to put a local community group together, we’re already going to try and do these things and talk about wonder - you know, making sure that we have a place that is distinctive. Making sure that we're able to have free access to nature. We're going to talk about this with the council, with the people who run and own our buildings. So, I think that I very much would like not only communities but also local councils to pick this up.
We've had lots of interest from lots of councils who have been running pilot projects with us, because we also have a post-occupancy evaluation that's coming out of the work that we've done. So, we're looking to encourage communities and to feed back on actually what their homes are like, and that's something that councils are finding really super interesting obviously as well as developers, because everybody wants to know what it is that it will make a difference.
DT: You used the word wonder just now. One of my questions was how it sits with the general government thrust towards the word ‘beauty’, but also how it sits with things like design codes and even things like permitted development rights. It’s a very big question but what are your views on how those equate and are you using wonder as a sort of substitute for beauty?
SM: The substitute I don't think really exists, because when we talk about wonder we talk about distinctiveness, but we're saying that that's about places that are well designed and have a strong sense of place and that are special. Now, you know, that's how I would define ‘beauty’ (laughs). You know, making sure that places have opportunities for everybody for playfulness. And that's not just for children, but that's also for adults to have a sense of fun and wonder and tap that sense of independence. All of those things I think are as important – if not more – than the aesthetics of one's environment. And that's something I've been talking about for a very long time.
How does it work with existing design codes? Well, we wrote this with URBED; we commissioned them to do it on the understanding that they were already doing the design codes. David (Rudlin) always says that design codes are the hardware, this is the software that knits it all together. So that's a very nice way of looking at it. This isn't a tick box exercise. This is saying: here are a set of themes that we know because we've done extensive research nationwide asking people what matters to them that these things do matter. And in the course of doing that, we found really great case studies that highlight best practice in all of these areas. All of which gives us a huge amount of knowledge we’re sharing with you. It’s easily accessible, it is easily understandable. All you have to do is pick it up and use it to focus your mind on one or two or three of those issues. It doesn’t have to even be all six of them.
DT: And last question: where should we look to in terms of geographies? Where in the world does this ‘stuff’ best?
SM: (pause) Gosh, that's a really good question. I shared this with colleagues in Rotterdam. I gave a speech the other day to the city of Rotterdam, and they just thought it was fantastic. And I'm like: what you mean? (laughs) Don't you do this already? (laughs).
But there are places that already have happiness indexes. You know, Seattle in the US for example; there are places where the focus on quality of life, wellbeing and health is something that people in cities or even countries want to do. But my sense is that actually when it comes to one’s homes and one’s developments on the smaller scale, then the irony is that this is so easy, it is so practical and it's so such a truism that these things really matter. When you read the six themes, you're not going to be surprised. But the reality is we we’re not including them in our homes – because if we were then we’d be designing homes that really did focus on health and wellbeing and they would be better.
We have 10 million people over lockdown living in 4.3 million homes that are really bad for their health and wellbeing and that's £1.5 billion that we’re spending that we don't need to from the NHS looking after those people. So, it's one of those cyclical arguments that I know have been made over and over again, but I think coming out of the pandemic the focus on what really matters to us - what we really value – I hope this will be useful tool to help us really crystallise that.
DT: Brilliant! I think we'll leave it there. Thank you very much Sadie, that was really great!