The Power of Good Design in the Built Environment

The Power of Good Design in the Built Environment

Design is a creative process by which complex issues are resolved in order to produce a product that is fit for purpose.      

The purpose of good design in the built environment is to cover the connections between people and places, movement and urban form, nature and the built fabric and the processes for ensuring successful places are delivered and maintained. The design process draws together many strands of place making, environmental concerns, social equity, economic viability and cultural awareness to create places which work and are sustainable in the long term.

Typically the built environment of an urban area is formed by a series of places. Some of these places are open spaces (eg. parks), some are narrow spaces (eg. streets), some are wide spaces (eg. plazas) and some are enclosed spaces (eg. courtyards). Some are active spaces and some are dead. Some are safe spaces and some are not. Some are attractive spaces and some are not appealing. Urban design is the art of making urban spaces memorable places for people.


According to the Design Council of the UK,

Design, when applied to the physical environment, affects everybody’s lives. Beautiful places give pleasure and create lasting economic value. Bad design, by contrast, can blight places over a lengthy period of time. Good design, when embedded in an effective planning system, binds individual buildings and spaces into functional and sustainable neighbourhoods.

Good urban design is concerned with how places in the built environment function, not just how they look. So a good design is more than a matter of visual attractiveness. It needs to bring together issues of planning, transportation, architectural design, development economics, landscape and engineering to create a vision for our built environment. Accordingly in the context of the built environment a good design means:

  • It meets user needs – people who will be living there today and tomorrow.
  • It understands and responds to its context - so the built product is able to establish a connection, an attachment to its surrounding area, to its surrounding community.
  • It enhances its overall space - not only visually but also environmentally.
  • It is built to last.and is capable of surviving for a long time with full efficiency, and can readily adapt to changes to the layout over its lifetime if necessary.
  • It is economically viable, affordable and manageable not only to its current users but also to its future users.

The value of this good design can be judged in two stages. During any built environmental project development phase a good design,

  • Can overcome any negative perceptions of the surrounding neighbours and can involve them in a constructive dialogue regarding the project proposal and statutory approval.
  • Can generate the support of future residents by gaining their confidence, which means faster selling of the project.
  • Can make the project approval process faster and smoother.

Even after completion of the project, a good design,

  • Can generate occupants’ satisfaction and pride - and would influence the occupants to take care of their built environment appropriately.
  • Can help to establish a long term relationship with the community, as it will be considered by the community as an asset to their overall spatial environment.
  • Can make maintenance easier and would help to keep the place in a good order over a longer period of time.
  • Can assist to increase the built environment’s overall value over its lifetime. It is wise, therefore to fully understand the power of good design as it provides a real opportunity to reduce the ultimate cost of any built environmental project through long term efficiency and viability, and also to generate real value for money.

This thought leadership article by Abu Hoque, a Senior Associate & Senior Urban Designer at Harrison Grierson.

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