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The main design project in semester two focusses on alternative forms of housing – appropriately named ‘Housing Alternatives’. Remaining at the same site as the previous design project (Science Central), we are to design a masterplan which consists of a co-housing model, a series of speculative housing developments such as live-work, private housing and social housing and finally, appropriate amenities to facilitate the influx of new residents. We initially attended site visits to gain an understanding of the type of standard we should aim towards, and were given a tool – BfL12 – in order to critically assess them. This post will focus on an analysis of said tool.

The Malings, Ouseburn (Author’s own, 2017)

Building for Life 12

BfL12 is a set of 12 questions which aim to discover the overall design quality of a new development. In the beginning there were 20 questions, but it was redesigned in 2012 to reflect the National Planning Policy Framework’s commitment to not only build more homes, but to build homes and neighbourhoods of the highest possible quality (Birkbeck & Kruczkowski, 2015).

Building for Life 12 – (Birkbeck & Kruczkowski, 2015)

My first criticism of the tool is that the questions are generalised too much. This results in the questions being too broad and difficult to answer for a specific scheme. For example, BfL12 has a question which is regarding whether car parking is sufficient and well-integrated into the scheme. This question would clearly pose an issue for a development which aimed to massively reduce the number of vehicles on-site and therefore provided less parking. They may receive a ‘red’ (traffic light system) for their parking provision, but what this doesn’t represent is that it was intended.

My next criticism is that as design is a very subjective topic, the accuracy of the tool lies with the competence of the panellists. Understandably, those who are elected panellists are deemed ‘experts’ of their respective fields, so that the integrity of the end result is maintained to the highest degree. However, there may be some elements of bias involved which could negatively and/or positively influence decisions.

I have attempted to highlight my two main concerns with BfL12 as a tool for assessing design quality. However, I must say that I do believe that it is a very useful and well-articulated tool which is easily understood by all parties. It is a fast and efficient way of evaluating a prospective scheme and allows developers/architects/planners/urban designers to get expert advice on how they can improve their design.


Birkbeck, D. & Kruczkowski, S., 2015. Buildig for Life 12, The sign of a Good Place to Live, Nottingham: Nottingham Trent University: CADBE for the Building for Life Partnership.


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School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

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