The Cost of everything & the Value of nothing

The Cost of everything & the Value of nothing

Date: 2017

For Green Sky Thinking week 2017, Mæ organised an event titled The Cost of everything and the Value of nothing and invited a multi-disciplinary panel to debate and discuss where value can be found in designing for communities in a changing society. 

The title of our event was derived from a line in 'Lady Windermere’s Fan', a play by Oscar Wilde, in which his character Lord Darlington states that "a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing". This is more than just a nice turn of phrase, the question it suggests is, do we consider ethical, social, environmental or cultural values on a par with financial or economical value? 

Each panel member conveyed their views in a series of short presentations and made headline recommendations for how we can better measure value.

Mae Architects Green Sky Thinking 1450 N7

Marcella Ucci, Senior Lecturer in Environmental and Healthy Buildings at the Bartlett's UCL:

“In many ways we need new professionals, which is one of the reasons why we launched a new MSc at the UCL on 'Health and Wellbeing in Sustainable Buildings’, and to realign stakeholders including public health professionals, planners, policy makers, architects etc.”

Theo Darviris, Environmental Engineer at Sturgis Carbon Profiling:

“The UK government has committed to decrease greenhouse the gas emission of 1990 by 80% in 2050 and this should lead the way to energy independence. However to meet this tough target buildings need to cut their carbon emissions by 95% and by 2050 most of the buildings we live and work in will already have been built and will require extensive retrofit work to meet this demanding target.”

Mae Architects Green Sky Thinking Roadmap 2050 Edit2
Mae Architects Green Sky Thinking 1450 N247 Medium

Neil Cogan, Sustainability Assessor at Max Fordham:

“In the concept designs presented for London Garden City we recommend using our 'greening the city' budget to target UHI mitigation and stormwater management. The possibility of air pollution reduction and food production should be explored further. Our preliminary investigation suggests that using vegetation to provide biofuel, insulation and acoustic attenuation are non-starters from an effectiveness or practicality point of view.”

Sabine Hogenhout, Architect at Mæ:

“We’ve learnt from our work at Grahame Park that it is possible to add economical, social and environmental value through good architectural and urban design whilst still working within tight cost constraints; thus creating a network of values that we see as essential in the creation of places for people and long lasting sustainable neighbourhoods.” 

Tom Goodall, Senior Project Director at Argent

"It's all about the Place. We are trying to create places where people like to be. This should be the first thing that one sets out to do."

Elanor Warwick, Head of Strategic Policy and Research at Clarion

“We are very good in thinking about extremes, we are very good in thinking about problems and difficulties. But we need to improve on picking up on the things that just lift the spirit a little bit, not big exciting moves, but making people feel a bit better during their day."

Mae Architects Green Sky Thinking Image003
Mae Architects Green Sky Thinking Image001


In drawing together, the reflections from the evening Alex Ely, Principal at Mæ stated that "Accountancy is a good servant, but a very poor master.” 

Being able to quantify things, to measure things, to compare and analyse can make it easy to miss the underlying issues and focusing on the price makes it easy to miss complex decisions based on combinations of ethics, moral, cultural, philosophy, community and social value. 

And it simplifies things down to games based on numbers and calculations. As a profession, collectively we have a real opportunity and through our event, we have learnt how some professionals are already questioning and challenging where value lies.

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