Building for Life was re-launched in 2014, ten years after it was first devised. The national housing design standard has been simplified to make it more useful. It has been refocused as a place making or urban design standard concerned primarily with the bringing together of homes to make enduring residential neighborhoods. The intention is that the design and construction of individual homes is to be covered by national space standards and Building Regulations. Good urban design and place making are so important because they have a long legacy. As the urban designer Sue Mc Glynn would say new street layouts last much longer than buildings defining places for 100’s and 1000’s of years. Everyone interested in creating truly sustainable places to live should be interested in good urban design and place making.
BFL is still the national standard because there is still an urgent need to drive improvement in our collective expectations for housing design. In the last decade national housing audits showed that up to 30% of all housing built shouldn’t have had planning permission and another 30% were just average. Building for Life can be used as a tool to actively test the quality of a design early on by assessing how it answers twelve key design questions. As a tool Building for Life 12 is designed to have ownership by communities, residents and developers. This shift in emphasis was used successfully in North West Leicestershire. In 2009 they adopted BFL as a standard in planning policy and made it into a place mark or quality award called Our Place. By persuading developers to use the standard themselves early in the design process and offering incentives to do well they were able to drive some really significant changes in overall quality.
Building for Life is set out in three sections covering three different scales of design; neighborhood, place and street and each containing four simple questions: Integrating into the Neighborhood – These are the neighborhood scale questions these are about the give and take relationship between a new neighborhood and existing settlements. Creating a place – These questions focus on how the new place is being created and signals how new places are built up from a number of different components…sequences of buildings, types of streets, materials, form and the intelligent use of (and addition to) existing qualities of place. Street and Home – This last section is about the design of the street itself – about the careful integration of functions to create predominantly social spaces. It is a good idea to test a development early on. In fact it could often help the quality of development if local authorities did a strategic BfL assessment of sites before any designs come forward. There are far too many missed opportunities in connecting new development into existing streets and footpaths. If we really want to make sustainable places we have to get this right.