Christine Lunde Rasmussen, Helene Bekker

June 22, 2022

Bringing social value to the forefront of the built environment

Much like the foundation of a building, social value is often invisible to the eye. Now, two professionals from two different backgrounds have come together to push social value from foundation to facade.

Ørestad photoshoot
Interview by Martin Christiansen
Management consultant Christine Lunde Rasmussen and architect Helene Bekker often rendezvous. Either in Ramboll’s airy headquarters or at Henning Larsen’s bright studio further downtown Copenhagen. Both examples of offices designed for interaction and social cohesion. Like many times before, the topic is social value in the build environment. We sat down with them to understand social value and what it means to actors in the industry.
First thing first, what exactly is social value?
Helene: "To me, as an architect, social value in the built environment is the impact that the built environment has on all inhabitants, at many different levels and in many different ways. It is about how the built environment can increase the quality of life for all of us, whatever that may mean for us as individuals."
And in more concrete terms?
"For example, creating accessible community facilities can support local communities and combat loneliness - or creating green and active urban spaces in different neighbourhoods can invite and inspire children and adults to get out and adapt a more active lifestyle, which in its turn improves their health and wellbeing leading to reduced health care costs for the society as a whole."
Coming from a social science background Christine, do you see it the same way or how would you define social value to - let’s say - someone new to the topic?
Christine: "Well, I would agree with Helene that in the built environment, social value is the impact or the contribution of the city, the local area or a given building to quality of life. This may include a very broad range of aspects, such as health, inclusive growth, employment, community cohesion and so on - at individual as well as community level. This means we need to tailor our understanding of social value to the concrete project. For instance, in a project we work on called Happy Homes, our focus was on identifying drivers for happiness for people living in row-houses (terraced houses)."
Why is social value a focus for architects like yourself, Helene?
Helene: "I see it as an integral part of our job to think about the social value and to incorporate solutions that support a positive impact and design physical environments that nurture what we often label ‘the good life’.
Think about it this way: the built environment shapes our movements and to a great extent defines how we move around, or who we meet on our way for instance. The built environment can increase or decrease the chance of interactions. That means the way we design has many social implications, so it only makes sense to consider it, when we design. Without that focus our work would be nothing more than aesthetics, shape, and form - and in worst case scenarios it can have negative social impact on individuals and communities."
Still, I assume it’s not common practice for everyone in the industry…?
Christine: "No, but that is what we are hoping to influence. Right now, there is not a culture for systematically working with social value, neither for being explicit on the impact we want to achieve and ensuring that design has the intended impact - nor for building knowledge to inform future design and transformations of the built environment. Social value is fundamentally about explicitly stating the change we want to bring about when we design, transform and build. How do we want our cities and buildings to shape our lives, and what trade-offs might there be? Only when we make this crystal clear can we ensure the highest impact with our projects."

It's only when architects, developers, constructors, funders, and social value experts work together that we can develop a strong movement.

Head of Department Landscape

The Potato rows, old housing for working people in Copenhagen, Denmark, August 16, 2019
So, say that some of these things were in fact common practice, Christine. What areas would you and the Ramboll teams look at to assess or evaluate social value throughout the building process?
Christine: "As social value is so wide-ranging, we have developed a holistic model with four overarching themes that we apply in the process: ‘Inclusive Growth’ which covers things like health, employment, education, housing, etc. Then ‘Community and Identity’ that covers a shared identity, societal cohesion, and diversity. ‘Resilient and Inclusive Environment’ covers an access to nature, green energy, and inclusive public realm. And across that we work with ‘Engagement and Participation’ to ensure residents and decision-makers are in the drivers’ seat."
We talk about social value. Does ‘social’ have a classic monetary value that can be assessed too?
Christine: "Absolutely. We can assess social value in many different ways. Some are qualitatively based on assessments from say residents or stakeholders. But we may also work with monetary values, and we have different tools for precisely that: For instance, a social value assessment or a social impact analysis that we use to estimate the societal value in monetary terms over a given period. These are methods that are well developed within the welfare domains and that can be transferred to the built environment. I think we will see much more of that in the future."
Speaking about the future. Which concrete steps should the industry take first to advance on social value in the built environment during the next years?
Helene: "As an initial first step, we need to work across sectors. It's only when architects, developers, constructors, funders, and social value experts work together that we can develop a strong movement. Then we need to have an explorative mind, being ready to test new methods and new ways of going about and invest in this fairly new field. And finally, we need to share experiences and talk about our successes as well as failures so that we can learn and improve along the way."
How do we raise awareness of social value as a key focus area for architects, developers, and others in the built environment?
Christine: "Well, I think we need not only to raise awareness but more fundamentally to build a culture where social value is at forefront of any given project. This requires that we build competencies and tools to define social values, and that we develop ways to follow up and assess whether we are on track towards our goals.
Surely, this is a long process. In Ramboll, we have embarked on a cross-sectoral cooperation between architects, engineers, water- and energy advisors and our specialists in social value assessment and transformation. There is so much to be gained and the positive learnings so far gives us an appetite for more."

Want to know more?

  • Christine Lunde Rasmussen

    Senior Market Manager

    +45 51 61 68 57

  • Helene Bekker

    Head of Department Landscape & Urbanism

    +45 60 35 21 10

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