Purposeful '˜briefs' inform and inspire designers

Quality of forethought is key to creating a future we can celebrate, writes Sam Cassels

Design shapes the way we interact with the world. Picture: Contributed

Design matters because it shapes the way we interact with the world. It can be a catalyst or a constraint, curtailing our potential or enabling our ambitions. It affects both the substance and the quality of our everyday lives. The purpose of Scottish Futures Trust is to help create a world-class infrastructure for Scotland and good design lies at the heart of achieving this.

Every individual responds to their physical environment, whether that response is one of delight, indifference, or despair. Each of us is an expert on our own lives. We know when we understand our surroundings and feel at home and supported by the built world – what urbanists call “a sense of place” – and we know when that world feels incoherent and unhelpful. The design of our surroundings is profoundly important to all of us. Design helps us imagine better worlds. It opens up possibilities and ambitions previously beyond our grasp. The design of a school is more than a series of classrooms, the design of a hospital more than a series of wards. Each can be done in a way that helps change lives for the better. And each can be done in a way that provides something else we care about passionately – value for money. Design helps us do both.

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Taken together, our public buildings – the way we build and use them – are critical to the future of places across Scotland. Design is not just about a project it is also about the way a whole place enables us to lead more successful lives.

So, particularly in Scotland’s year of Innovation, Architecture and Design we are the first to acknowledge that getting design right really matters. And for us that begins with a crystal clear idea of what we are trying to achieve and why. Indeed, in creating a well-designed object, building, or a major piece of infrastructure, perhaps the single most important quality to aspire to is “quality of forethought”.

Buildings are rarely built for buildings’ sake. They have a purpose, and fulfilling that purpose is the reason we invest time and resources in building them. Meeting that social and economic need whilst caring for the public purse requires us to challenge not only the way things are done but also how a particular design investment can achieve more. We need to establish the conditions for success before we embark on spending public money. Is this really the best way to use scarce resources? Are there other better ways of doing it? Will this particular physical solution really deliver the change we need? Can we find better ways of turning this design into reality?

We need purposeful “briefs” which inform and inspire designers. Such briefs come from collaboration – the sharing of experience, knowledge and expertise between organisations and individuals. Scottish Futures Trust put a lot of effort into this endeavour because we know that a great brief is the platform from which great architecture can emerge. A great building which doesn’t deliver what it was intended to deliver is not an iconic masterpiece, it is a folly.

A beautiful building in splendid isolation does not make a great place. If we are to create a world class infrastructure for Scotland, then that infrastructure needs to be designed to provide the most effective and efficient answers to the most pressing problems, and it needs to be designed for the outcomes Scotland requires. This year, Scotland is celebrating its great innovation, architecture and design. Building on this to create a future we can all celebrate will demand world class “quality of forethought” from all of us.

• Sam Cassels, Smarter Places Associate Director, Scottish Futures Trust