September 2004 No.3,
Public Awareness of the Built Environment
Dr Judith Harkins
TNS Social Research
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This summary presents the main findings of a study commissioned by the Scottish Executive Architecture Policy Unit on public awareness of the built environment in Scotland. The overall aim of the research was to gain an understanding of the public's awareness of issues surrounding the built environment and how these issues impact on their daily lives. Specifically, the main aims were: to provide baseline data against which future public attitudes to the built environment can be compared and any change monitored; to provide evidence of the importance of architecture in people's lives and the necessity of promoting and funding good design; and to provide results capable of provoking debate and raising the profile of architecture in the media. The study was designed to allow comparison with a previous study conducted by MORI in England for the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) 1.
- Views on respondents' local areas were reasonably positive, with the majority of individuals being satisfied with the appearance of their local area. Significantly more Scottish than English individuals were satisfied in this respect (76% compared with 70% in the previous English study). The results also indicated that improving the general cleanliness of the area should be a priority for policy (mentioned by 19% of respondents).
- The most popular ideal homes for Scottish respondents were bungalows (24%) and 'traditional' style detached houses (15%). In contrast, flats were significantly less desirable (44% 'least liked' 1990s flats) even when these flats were traditional tenements.
- Attitudes towards public buildings revealed that ensuring buildings are free of graffiti (98%) and that derelict buildings are demolished (88%) should be priorities. Generally, people in Scotland were more open and accepting of new buildings than their English counterparts. However, most respondents in Scotland believed that architects should design buildings which have a broad appeal (84%), and that are not particularly different or adventurous. In terms of which qualities new buildings should have, accessibility for people with disabilities (64%) and being built to last (30%) were considered to be the most important elements of design.
- Although current levels of involvement in the built environment were fairly low (6%), the results point to the possibility that people may become more involved in the future (45%), especially if they felt the issues were pertinent to them (77%). People did, however, indicate that the built environment impacted on how they felt and on their quality of life (64%).
- Only 7% had heard of the Scottish Executive's Policy on Architecture for Scotland. However, when told what the main aims of the policy were, the majority of all respondents perceived these to be important. This is an encouraging result, as it indicates acceptance of objectives of the policy.
- Although three quarters of individuals could not name any living architects, this proportion was significantly lower than in the English study (84%). Given the recent publicity surrounding the Holyrood Parliament project, it is perhaps not surprising that this was the most well-known building (40%). Around one third of individuals had heard of The Lighthouse (Scotland's first dedicated, national centre for architecture and design, based in Glasgow).
The Policy on Architecture for Scotland was launched by the Scottish Executive in October 2001. It stated that "[government's] ability to meet social policy objectives for a decent, fair and inclusive society is dependent on the quality of the built environments we make and sustain" 2.
The document emphasised the need for collaboration between individuals involved in the design and commissioning of buildings, and individuals affected by the quality and nature of the local built environment. In relation to the current study, the most significant policy objectives are:
- To encourage debate on the role of architecture in national and local life
- To promote Scottish architecture at home and abroad
- To encourage greater interest and community involvement in matters affecting local built environments.
A survey was conducted with a representative sample of Scottish adults. The study examined various issues such as knowledge and awareness of architecture and design, what people considered to be an ideal home, and what people expected from new and public buildings.
A sample of 1,002 members of the Scottish adult population aged 17 years or over were interviewed face-to-face about their awareness of and involvement in the local built environment. Interviews were conducted in-home between October and December 2003. Quotas were set on the basis of age, sex, and working status to ensure that the sample was representative of the general Scottish population. All differences reported between sub-groups are statistically significant.
Attitudes towards the local area
Over three quarters of respondents were either very or fairly satisfied with the appearance of their local area (76%), a significantly higher proportion than found in England.
People who live in flats (67%) or older accommodation (69%) were less satisfied. The problem of overdevelopment was perceived to be more of a problem by those living in suburban parts of the cities than by those in other areas.
When asked what could be done to improve the local area, the most common response was that action to improve the general cleanliness of the area (19%) was required. This was also the change proposed by most individuals in the previous English study (22%). Improving the general cleanliness of the area was more of an issue for less affluent individuals than for the more affluent (23% compared with 13%). Additionally, private renters seemed to be more concerned with this issue (35%) than those in other tenure types. The second most common response was improving road, pavement, and street lighting maintenance (11%). This response was more common among males (14%) than females (8%) and among older (15%) than younger (6%) respondents.
What constitutes the ideal home?
The most popular ideal homes were bungalows (24%) and 'traditional' style detached houses (15%). In contrast, flats were seen as significantly less desirable. These findings are consistent with those of the English survey, indicating a lack of regional differences despite the tradition of tenement flats in Scotland. These results suggest that bungalows and detached houses may be more sought after than flats in the future, a finding that has implications for housing policy.
The choice of ideal home did not differ by individual's current accommodation, suggesting that many individuals are not currently living in their most preferred type of property. Younger individuals were more likely to choose a new traditional style detached house as their ideal home (25%), perhaps as it represented a 'first home' that seemed to be within their reach in terms of size and affordability.
There are differences between what individuals deem to be important when considering choosing a property in the future, and what factors actually influenced their decision to choose their current property. The size of the property was not a factor that people were willing to compromise on (94%), as opposed to the appearance of the property (72%) and it being energy efficient (52%). As in the English survey, security against crime (79%) was also seen as a priority.
Attitudes towards public buildings
When asked to rate the importance of certain features of public buildings, individuals stated that ensuring public buildings were free of graffiti (98%) and that derelict buildings were demolished (88%) should be priorities. Buildings being accessible to people with disabilities appears to be more significant to Scottish than English individuals (64% compared with 55%). The problem of graffiti was particularly important to less affluent households, (76% citing this as a problem), which could reflect the characteristics of their area.
The majority of individuals agreed that public buildings should be energy efficient, even if they cost more (82%). Given the importance of environmentally friendly design features, the fact that around of third of individuals could not name any such features suggests that raising public awareness of this issue should be a priority for action.
Perceived priorities for public buildings differed by socio-economic group. For example, the building being pleasurable to use or visit was more of a priority for more affluent than less affluent individuals (35%), as was the building being able to meet changing user needs (22%). In comparison, the building being secure against crime was cited by a higher proportion of individuals from less affluent households.
Over half of Scottish respondents indicated that they liked new buildings (57% compared with 48% in English study). This finding was more common among males (64%), younger individuals (83%) and those living in modern accommodation (64%). Less than a quarter of respondents agreed that new buildings were eyesores. However, most respondents believed architects should design buildings which have a broad appeal (84%), and that are not particularly different or adventurous.
Awareness of and involvement in the local built environment
One of the central policy objectives is to encourage greater interest and community involvement in matters affecting the local built environment. In order for this objective to be implemented successfully, it is necessary to first provide a measure of present public involvement in decisions affecting the local built environment. The study therefore provides baseline data against which future research and initiatives can be measured. This was based on the extent to which a respondent would become involved in local meetings to look at and give a view on development proposals, and asked what type of involvement a respondent would prefer to have in decisions about their local built environment.
Although current levels of involvement were fairly low (6%), the results point to the possibility that people may become more involved in the future, especially if the issues were directly relevant to the individual (73%). As interest and involvement was higher amongst the more affluent, it would also be important to ensure that any attempt to increase involvement was aimed at all members of society.
Regardless of current levels of awareness and involvement, people indicated that the built environment did impact on how they felt (64%) and on their quality of life (62%). This was particularly common amongst younger individuals and those from the more affluent social classes. These findings reinforce the importance of planning policy as a means of continuing to raise involvement in the built environment, given the relevance it has to peoples' lives.
Low levels of involvement in the built environment were also reflected by the limited public knowledge of the policy on architecture (7% had heard of the policy). However, those who have heard of the policy overwhelmingly supported its objectives. In particular, increasing awareness of the built environment through working with schools was seen to be worthwhile (90%), as was encouraging greater interest and community involvement in matters affecting the local built environment (87%). These findings are positive as they suggest that the general public do advocate raising awareness of issues surrounding the built environment.
Awareness of new public buildings and living architects
Although three quarters of individuals could not name any living architects, a quarter could (compared with 16% in the English study), indicating that knowledge of architects is higher in Scotland than in England. In neither study was there any prompting with names. More respondents from social groups ABC1 could name living architects than those in C2DE. The most well known architect, mentioned by 14% of respondents, was Richard Murphy.
The results also indicated that people in Scotland were more aware of new buildings than people in England. For example, 72% could name a new building compared with 56% in England. It may be that the recent publicity about the new Scottish Parliament could help explain this difference. It is not surprising that the Holyrood project was the most commonly mentioned new building (40%), followed by the Millennium Dome (20%).
The Lighthouse is situated in Glasgow and is Scotland's first, dedicated, national centre for architecture and design. Given the specific nature of the centre, it was encouraging that just over a third of respondents had heard of The Lighthouse. Awareness was not concentrated in the Glasgow area since a similar proportion of respondents in Edinburgh, Glasgow, central Scotland and Argyll and Bute had heard of the Lighthouse. Over a quarter of those in Perthshire and Fife, the Borders and Highlands and Islands were also aware of The Lighthouse. Levels of awareness were lowest in Grampian and Tayside. The Lighthouse was most well-known amongst males (38%), the more affluent (53%), and older individuals (41%).
Of those individuals who had heard of The Lighthouse, just over a fifth had actually visited the centre (22%). In terms of area, 27% of respondents from Glasgow, 20% from Edinburgh, and 21% from Argyll and Ayrshire had visited the centre.
Of those who had never visited, around four in ten individuals (39%) were either very or fairly interested in visiting The Lighthouse in the future. More males than females indicated interest (55% compared with 44%), as did more individuals from social groups ABC1 than C2DE (52% compared with 32%).
Implications for Government
As with the English study, the majority of individuals said that the Government should be involved in promoting improvements to the built environment (57%), and that public money should be spent on promoting good public buildings and public spaces (82%). This latter finding was more common among the more affluent (91%) than the less affluent. Ensuring that public buildings are energy efficient was also supported by most individuals (82%). Improving the cleanliness of the local area and road maintenance were also issues that respondents said needed to be addressed.
The results in relation to the policy objectives were positive. At least two-thirds of the public supported each of the objectives. Given their far ranging effect, public support for them is encouraging. The policy objectives which received most support were:
- Working with schools to make young people more aware of the built environment
- Encouraging greater interest and community involvement in matters affecting the local built environment
- Campaigning for better quality buildings and the built environment
An important challenge for policy is to raise involvement in, and awareness of, the built environment and its relevance to everyday life. The Lighthouse may be a useful asset in helping to achieve this aim of raising interest and awareness, as it does seem to have made an impact and have a reasonably high national profile to build on.
An additional aim would be to perhaps attempt to further explore people's expectations in relation to what constitutes a desirable property _ particularly given the potential conflict between sustaining the countryside and the desire for detached and bungalow properties.
The present research provided useful baseline data of public interest and involvement in the local built environment, against which change can be monitored. In general, the results do validate the need for the architecture policy, given that respondents felt the quality of the built environment had an impact on their general well-being. There was also a high level of support for the policy objectives, specifically when these focused on increasing community involvement in the built environment. To summarise the main results, although current involvement and awareness in the local built environment was not particularly high, there was encouraging evidence to suggest that people would be both interested and willing to become more involved if they felt the issues were of relevance to them. This would suggest that the public may be receptive to initiatives aimed at raising public awareness and involvement.
If you required further copies of this Research Findings or have any enquiries, further information on this research project is available from:
The Architecture Policy Unit
Edinburgh EH6 6QQ
(Tel: 0131 244 7461)
This document and the full report 'Public Awareness of the Built Environment' can be viewed on the internet at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/insight or at http://www.scottisharchitecture.com/education-research.html
Education Department Research Findings are published by SEED, Information, Analysis and Communication Division. All of our publications can be viewed at www.scotland.gov.uk/insight.
2 Scottish Executive, 2001. A policy on architecture for Scotland. P3