Building for Life

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Building for Life is a tool for assessing the design quality of homes and neighbourhoods in England. It was developed by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), with partners the Home Builders Federation, the Civic Trust and Design for Homes.

The Building for Life tool comprises 20 questions, or criteria,[1] to assess the design quality of new housing developments, resulting in a numerical score. The criteria reflect the importance of functionality, attractiveness and sustainability in well-designed homes and neighbourhoods.

The approach embodied by the criteria is based on national planning policy guidance[2][3][4] and on urban design principles.[5][6] The criteria also link to other standards for housing design, including the BREEAM EcoHomes standard,[7] the Code for Sustainable Homes,[8] Lifetime Homes[9] and Secured by Design.[10]


Uses for Building for Life include the following:

  • The basis of development briefs written by developers and housing associations
  • A tool to assess compliance with quality standards, for projects being considered for public sector funding, or being built on publicly owned land
  • An assessment method included by local authorities developing local planning frameworks, core strategies and supplementary planning guidance
  • A framework for Design Teams to structure Design and Access statements supporting their planning applications
  • Assessments by local authorities during pre-planning discussions and in reviewing planning applications
  • An auditing and monitoring tool, to allow local and national government to audit the quality of completed projects [11]
  • An award scheme aimed at showcasing and celebrating better quality housing projects after completion[12]
  • A best practice resource, through the website and case study library.[13]


In 2001 the director of the Civic Trust, Mike Gwilliam, approached the Home Builders Federation with an idea to showcase the best new housing. They shared with CABE the aim of promoting high quality design and CABE’s chief executive Jon Rouse supported the initiative. The three organisations entered into a formal partnership and invited architect and urban designer Sir Terry Farrell to chair a panel of experts to take the initiative forward.

This panel included Martin Bacon, David Birkbeck, Keith Bradley, Steve Lidgate, Kelvin Macdonald, Dr John Miles, Dickon Robinson, Jon Rouse, Julian Smith, Peter Studdert and David Taylor.

The Building for Life campaign was launched on 11 September 2001 with a manifesto, aiming to promote design excellence and showcase best practice in the house building industry; understand the needs and aspirations of home buyers; and identify barriers to good design whilst campaigning to remove them.

At a meeting on December 13, 2001, Design for Homes became an advisor to the partnership in recognition for the considerable time and effort they had contributed to the initiative. Subsequently Design for Homes produced a website on behalf of the partnership, www.buildingforlife,org, showcasing 10 very different schemes showing how housebuilding could excel in many different ways, provided it had adequate urban design manners and reasonable public and private amenity.

Key principles of good urban design had been documented in a variety of ways including in By design: urban design in the planning system towards better practice (2000).:[5]

Objectives of Urban Design

  • Character A place with its own identity
  • Continuity and enclosure A place where public and private spaces are clearly distinguished
  • Quality of the public realm A place with successful outdoor areas
  • Ease of movement A place that is easy to get to and move through
  • Legibility A place that has a clear image and is easy to understand
  • Adaptability A place that can change easily
  • Diversity A place with variety and choice

Aspects of Development Form

  • Layout: urban structure The framework of routes and spaces that connect locally and more widely, and the way developments, routes and open spaces relate to one another
  • Layout: urban grain The pattern of the arrangement of street blocks, plots and their buildings in a settlement
  • Landscape The character and appearance of land, including its shape, form, ecology, natural features, colours and elements, and the way these components combine
  • Density and mix The amount of development on a given piece of land and the range of uses. Density influences the intensity of development, and in combination with the mix of uses can affect a place’s vitality and viability.
  • Scale: height Scale is the size of a building in relation to its surroundings,or the size of parts of a building or its details, particularly in relation to the size of a person. Height determines the impact of development on views, vistas and skylines.
  • Scale: massing The combined effect of the arrangement, volume and shape of a building or group of buildings in relation to other buildings and spaces
  • Appearance: details The craftsmanship, building techniques, decoration, styles and lighting of a building or structure.
  • Appearance: materials The texture, colour, pattern and durability of materials, and how they are used.

In 2002 the criteria used for the case studies were:

  • Continuity and enclosure
  • Legibility
  • Character
  • Ease of movement and layout
  • Connections
  • Travel choices
  • Streets and spaces
  • Density and mix
  • Maintenance
  • Safety
  • Disabled access
  • Parking
  • Community facilities

The case study selection criteria needed to codify what was being celebrated. There was a need to clearly state on what basis the case studies were chosen. A set of questions were produced turning principles from several publications into shorthand, notably English Partnerships' "Urban Design Compendium", By design: urban design in the planning system towards better practice.,[5] and Urbed's "Building the 21st Century Home". The author of these was Design for Homes' David Birkbeck who worked with CABE's Dr Edward Hobson and proposed them to Home Builders Federation's Mark Rice. These 20 questions were eventually published as the Building for Life criteria[1] in July 2003, following input from the Civic Trust's Liz Wrigley and CABE's Alex Ely.

In 2003, ten housing developments were celebrated with the Building for Life awards, on the basis of their good performance against the Building for Life criteria, and Wayne Hemingway replaced Sir Terry Farrell as chairman of the panel.

Over the period 2004 to 2007, Building for Life was used as the basis for the first national audit of housing design quality, which highlighted the inadequate quality of much of England’s newly built housing.[14][15][16]

While Building for Life was initially applied to completed housing developments, in 2003 CABE also developed and encouraged the its use as means of achieving good design during the planning process.

English Partnerships adopted Building for Life for use as a standard in September 2005, requiring proposals for development on land they owned to achieve 14 out of the 20 criteria at tender disposal stage. They also required schemes to be submitted to the Building for Life awards when they were 50% complete.[17]

In April 2007, the Housing Corporation published its design and quality standards,[18] which incorporated Building for Life as the assessment method for the external environment. All new homes which received grant funding through the National Affordable Housing Programme were required to achieve 12 out of the 20 criteria. The Housing Corporation also carried out an audit of the quality of affordable homes built prior to the adoption of the new standards.[19] The Housing Corporation also published guidance from HATC Ltd on how to achieve the requirements of Building for Life, aimed at housing association Development staff i.e. project managers rather than designers.[20]

In 2008, the Department for Communities and Local Government commissioned CABE to check on progress and provide an independent view of quality in the Thames Gateway. CABE carried out a quality audit using Building for Life. The government’s aspiration was that in 2010, no scheme in the Thames Gateway should achieve fewer than 10 criteria out of 20, and at least 50% of schemes should achieve more than 14 out of the 20 criteria. By 2015, 100% of schemes in the Thames Gateway should achieve a score of 14 out of the 20 criteria.

In 2008, the government requested that local authorities use Building for Life to measure progress in improving design quality. In July of that year, Building for Life criteria were incorporated into the revised list of core output indicators published by the Department for Communities and Local Government, upon which local authorities were required to report.[21]

To support the application of Building for Life by local authorities and others, the Department for Communities and Local Government commissioned CABE to deliver a programme to create a national network of accredited assessors across local authorities in England. CABE developed a training and accreditation programme and drafted a Code of Conduct which Accredited Assessors were required to sign up to. By the end of 2010, CABE had trained 497 local authority professionals and had accredited 301 assessors in 194 local authorities to carry out formal assessments.

In 2010, Homes and Communities Agency set out in their proposed core housing design and sustainability standards consultation plans to make achieving 14/20 of the Building for Life criteria mandatory.[22]

The Homes and Communities Agency commissioned CABE to carry out Building for Life assessments of applications to the Kickstart Housing Delivery programme[23] They funded one-day assessments of each application, on the basis of evidence submitted to the Kickstart programme; assessments were carried out by a group of around 40 built environment professionals, trained and supervised by CABE.

A number of local authorities adopted Building for Life. For example, in 2008 North West Leicestershire District Council used Building for Life as a design quality indicator for all new residential led developments of ten homes or more, requiring that 14 criteria must be met to meet the council’s expectations.[24]

By the end of 2010, a number of local authorities had integrated Building for Life into their policy framework in different ways. These included North Northamptonshire, Sheffield City Council, Ashford Borough Council, Southampton City Council, South Gloucestershire Council, East Dorset District Council, Mansfield District Council, North Lincolnshire District Council, Erewash Borough Council, North Kesteven District Council, Rushcliffe Borough Council, London Borough of Merton, Fylde Borough Council, Nottingham City Council and London Borough of Havering.

The Building for Life standard[edit]

Building for Life standards are given to all entries to the Building for Life awards that score more than 14/20. Schemes that score 14/20 or 15/20 receive the silver standard while schemes scoring 16/20 or more receive the gold standard.

By the end of 2010, 169 schemes had been identified as achieving a Building for Life silver or gold standard.

The Building for Life awards[edit]

Schemes were entered for Building for Life awards each spring by developers, housing associations, architects or planners. Entries were formally assessed against the 20 Building for Life criteria and all those achieving 14 or more received either a silver or gold standard. Schemes achieving a Building for Life standard were shortlisted for the awards. An independent judging panel then selected outstanding schemes to receive a Building for Life award. The Judging panel was chaired by Wayne Hemingway. Since 2008, the Building for Life awards judging panel included Nick Raynsford MP, Lynsey Hanley, John Calcutt, David Pretty, Yolande Barnes, Steven Carr and Jane Briginshaw.

The Building for Life criteria[edit]

The criteria fall into four categories, and are as follows:

Environment and community

01.   Does the development provide (or is it close to) community facilities, such as a school, parks, play areas, shops, pubs or cafes?

02.   Is there an accommodation mix that reflects the needs and aspirations of the local community?

03.   Is there a tenure mix that reflects the needs of the local community?

04.   Does the development have easy access to public transport?

05.   Does the development have any features that reduce its environmental impact?


06.   Is the design specific to the scheme?

07.   Does the scheme exploit existing buildings, landscape or topography?

08.   Does the scheme feel like a place with distinctive character?

09.   Do the buildings and layout make it easy to find your way around?

10.   Are streets defined by a well-structured building layout?

Streets, parking and pedestrianisation

11.   Does the building layout take priority over the streets and car parking, so that the highways do not dominate?

12.   Is the car parking well integrated and situated so it supports the street scene?

13.   Are the streets pedestrian, cycle and vehicle friendly?

14.   Does the scheme integrate with existing streets, paths and surrounding development?

15.   Are public spaces and pedestrian routes overlooked and do they feel safe?

Design and construction

16.   Is public space well designed and does it have suitable management arrangements in place?

17.   Do the buildings exhibit architectural quality?

18.   Do internal spaces and layout allow for adaptation, conversion or extension?

19.   Has the scheme made use of advances in construction or technology that enhance its performance, quality and attractiveness?

20.   Do buildings or spaces outperform statutory minima, such as building regulations?


  1. ^ a b CABE, Building for Life: The 20 criteria, 4 November 2008.
  2. ^ Communities and Local Government, Planning Policy Statement 1: Delivering Sustainable Development, 31 January 2005.
  3. ^ Communities and Local Government, Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing, 9 June 2010.
  4. ^ Communities and Local Government, Planning Policy Statement 17: Planning for Open space, Sport and Recreation, 24 July 2002
  5. ^ a b c CABE, By Design: urban design in the planning system towards better practice, April 2000.
  6. ^ Department for Transport, Manual for Streets, 2007, Thomas Telford Ltd, ISBN 978-0-7277-3501-0.
  7. ^ "EcoHomes". BREEAM. 2014-02-21. Retrieved 2014-02-25. 
  8. ^ Communities and Local Government, The code for sustainable homes: setting the standard in sustainability for new homes, 27 February 2008
  9. ^ Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Homes, 16 Design Criteria from 5 July 2010 (REVISED)
  10. ^ Secured by Design, Secured by Design, New Homes 2010
  11. ^ "[ARCHIVED CONTENT] Housing audit | Housing | CABE". Archived from [http:/ the original] Check |url= value (help) on 2011-01-18. Retrieved 2014-02-25. 
  12. ^ "[ARCHIVED CONTENT] Awards | Building for Life". Archived from the original on 2011-01-07. Retrieved 2014-02-25. 
  13. ^ "[ARCHIVED CONTENT] Case studies | Building for Life". Archived from the original on 2011-01-07. Retrieved 2014-02-25. 
  14. ^ CABE, Housing audit 2004: London, the South East and the East of England, 30 September 2004.
  15. ^ CABE, Housing audit 2005: North East, North West and Yorkshire and Humber, 1 November 2005.
  16. ^ CABE, Housing audit 2006: East Midlands, West Midlands and the South West, 8 February 2007.
  17. ^ English Partnerships Places Homes People, Policy Guidance, English Partnership’s Quality Standards - delivering quality places, revised from November 2007.
  18. ^ Housing Corporation, Design and Quality Standards, April 2007.
  19. ^ Housing Corporation, Affordable Housing Survey: A review of the quality of affordable housing in England, 2008.
  20. ^ Housing Corporation, Achieving Building for Life
  21. ^ Communities and Local Government, Regional Spatial Strategy and Local Development Framework Core Output Indicators – Update 2/2008
  22. ^ Homes and Communities Agency Homes and Communities Agency Proposed Core Housing Design and Sustainability Standards Consultation, March 2010
  23. ^ Homes and Communities Agency, Kickstart Housing Delivery: Unlocking stalled sites, May 2009.
  24. ^ "Urban Design - North West Leicestershire District Council". Retrieved 2014-02-25. 

External links[edit]