Valuing Design and Innovation in Built Heritage : Exploratory Conversations

Project: Research

Project Details


"This project seeks to investigate the value of design and innovation through a set of managed dialogues between three key sets of stakeholders who together influence the use and value of design in the context of built environment heritage. These conversations between academics, design SMEs and the national heritage agencies will provide opportunities to narrate accounts of how design focussed SMEs have been able or inhibited from engaging with innovation in relation to heritage, how those agencies which influence regulation and governance are engaging with design sector, and how together they understand the role and value of design in relation to heritage.

Our starting point is that while design is widely recognised in novel urban forms (buildings, public spaces etc) that meet future needs, it is less well recognised in conserving selected heritage that integrates with new and extended places. Still less attention has been given to opportunities for innovation to make the vast majority of the existing urban fabric smarter for the future. By bringing together those involved in valuing heritage and design into directed conversation, this project will not only highlight stories of success where design SMEs have been able to create value but also provide a deeper understanding of some of the constraints which hold back others from achieving such success."

Key findings

"6. Emerging findings
The conversations set out to identify areas of interest, worthy of further consideration, rather than any firm conclusions and the case studies, example of practice and the experience of those involved in the dialogue, highlighted two key elements which merit further consideration.
6.1 Towards a shared understanding of design and innovation in built heritage
The concepts of design, innovation and built heritage are elusive. The lack of a shared understanding of the fundamental concepts of design and innovation pushed the project to rely on the assumption that a shared interest in built heritage would be sufficient to bring SMEs, design professionals and academics together. In fact, the project found a less cohesive sector than anticipated, highly differentiated in terms of business size and structures and, with a wide range of disciplines and associated understandings of design, innovation and value. Each time the project team met with additional contributors, the key definitions of design, innovation and built heritage were revisited and added to.
A recurrent theme throughout discussions was that design has a crucial enabling role in allowing (designing in) or preventing (designing out) different voices and innovation and that any discussion of built heritage requires considerable care to frame the issues appropriately and in ways that are meaningful across a range of disciplinary, development and business perspectives.
6.2 Demonstrating value through design in innovation in relation to built heritage
This project identified examples of design value at a range of levels (individual, business and community/society) and perspectives (efficiency, aesthetics, financial, social, cultural, and sustainable) that has much resonance with the value framework proposed for design innovation by den Ouden (2012) and the value types identified by Douglas-Wheeler (2014) for the Scottish Government. However, in common with the findings of other recent studies exploring the value of design and innovation in related contexts such as the built environment and culture (Institute of Design Innovation 2014), the team identified no easy answers to the problem of measurement.
Indeed, demonstrating the value of design through built heritage was yet further complicated by the lack of common agreement on the value offered by heritage (neither den Ouden or Douglas-Wheeler identify specific 'heritage' values). In addition, innovations such as image mapping raise new possibilities for preserving aspects of built heritage in less tangible forms. The tensions perceived in the third workshop between the use and economic values of site development and the social and cultural values of site conservation suggest that this might be a fruitful area for more in-depth research that would help reveal how the value proposition is constructed, together with the potential for disruption."
Effective start/end date1/04/1431/10/14


  • AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council): £39,589.84


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