Can you give a building marks for design quality? The Construction Industry Council says yes, and has devised a system to do it. Martin Spring explains this 'design quality indicator' and assesses how well it sums up Hodder Associates' Walsall swimming pool.
Architects continually complain that their contribution to building projects is routinely downgraded in importance, since design quality is dismissed by clients and project managers as a nebulous concept that cannot be measured like time or cost. Others retort that they can't understand what architecte are on about. Now their communication problems may be resolved by a comprehensive system for appraising all aspects of a building design. This "design quality indicator" was launched by the Construction Industry Council, with the support of CABE, Rethinking Construction and the DTI.

The DQI enables an assessment to be made of a building's design. It can be used to draw up a design brief at the start of a project, and to ensure that the agreed design criteria are kept on track during development. It can also be used to carry forward what was learned on one building to similar ones built in the future.

The DQI is not intended to be used primarily by architects, but is devised in the form of a standard four-page questionnaire in accessible language that invites non-architects to come to grips with design issues. The idea is that it should be used by all stakeholders of a building, from its client and building project team, through the facilities manager, to the end users and even casual visitors, to elicit their different priorities for design. The CIC intends that the stakeholders should be invited to DQI sessions at various stages in the development of a building and go through the questionnaire each time.

As the name implies, the DQI complements the Movement for Innovation's key performance indicators, but whereas KPIs appraise the process of construction, the DQIs appraise the product. Architect Robin Nicholson, chairman of CIC and one of the fathers of the system, says: "It's a tool that enables conversations about buildings to take place. From my point of view as an architect, it gets across the message that design is a complicated process that involves thinking about all the issues in the questionnaire. It helps people to make better informed decisions about the design."

As devised by architects Nicholson and Sunand Prasad and building technologist David Gann, the DQI appraisal system is split into three broad categories, which cover how well the building functions at its intended purpose, how well the fabric and services perform, and what impact it has on its users and the environment. These three categories – functionality, build quality and impact – correspond to the classic trinity of building attributes – commodity, firmness and delight respectively – as laid down by the Roman architect Vitruvius. They also loosely correspond to the four categories of Building's occasional "Building revisited" series – fitness for purpose, maintainability, comfort and delight, although here "comfort" has been subsumed by "impact".

Respondents are asked to rate 90 statements such as "the building easily accommodates the users' needs" and "the indoor air quality is pleasant" on a scale of one to seven, from strong disagreement to strong agreement. A DQI session begins with an introduction by an experienced "facilitator" and lasts about two hours. After the session, the scorings recorded on the completed questionnaires are combined and converted by the CIC into graphic spider charts (see above). The scoring on the spider charts can be weighted according to the relative importance the respondents attach to each question.


Design Quality Indicator