Architectural design quality and social sustainability in building certification systems

Lucia Oberfrancová, Martin Wollensak

Cite this article
Oberfrancová, L., Wollensak, M. (2022) ‘Architectural design quality and social sustainability in building certification systems’, Architecture Papers of the Faculty of Architecture and Design STU, 26(3), pp. 13-23.



The main objective of the study is to examine to what extent the architectural design quality and social sustainability are taken into account in building assessments. As part of the study, criteria of chosen certification systems and profiles relevant to social, aesthetic and design quality have been analysed, evaluated and compared. The following most commonly used building assessments in Europe (focus on Germany, Slovakia and Czech Republic) have been investigated: BREEAM, LEED, CESBA, LEVEL(s), DGNB, BNB, BNK, NaWoh, SBToolCZ and WELL.

After extensive research of selected certification systems and various sources on topics such as conditions of well-being, sociocultural indicators, assessment of social performance of sustainable buildings and design quality assessment, the main social and architectural quality aspects were determined and used for further analysis and final evaluation. The features to be considered were chosen according to their relevance to building-related quality of life (categories of user satisfaction and quality of life, sustainable and healthy lifestyle), to the building-related aesthetic and design quality, if it was a goal of the criterion (category: architecture – design quality), and to the social responsibility aspects that are indirectly related to buildings (category: social responsibility). The category of innovation is a little part of some certification systems and was evaluated only if the indicators are relevant to the topic.

The article contains a summary of results with overall evaluation and comparison of certification systems including weighting of studied categories in selected building assessments. Furthermore, indicators introduced in certifications associated with the quality of life and the quality of architectural expression and their weighting are described and presented. Slightly subjective interpretation and little deviations in results in the process of the categorising and weighting of the criteria cannot be avoided in some cases, as the certification systems, schemes and the method of criteria rating within the certification differ very much.

Overall, average weighting of building-related social sustainability is 37.74% – a little bit more than 1/3 of all criteria in certification. Average weighting of the category of user satisfaction and quality of life and the category of sustainable and healthy lifestyle is 25.54% and 11.97%, respectively. Innovation aspects relevant to social sustainability are given 0.23% on average. In total, the highest average weighting of building-related social sustainability aspects can be found in certification profiles: buildings in use and operation and maintenance, the lowest is given to profile interiors. This shows that the influence of a building on the user´s lifestyle in building operation stage is deemed to be of high importance. Indicators in the category of user satisfaction and quality of life are divided into four groups: health, comfort and well-being (e.g. physical conditions such as thermal, acoustic, visual comfort, indoor air quality and healthy resources such as avoidance of hazardous materials, VOCs / formaldehyde restrictions); inclusion and equity (e.g. accessibility, universal design); safety and security (e.g. crime prevention, emergency preparedness, resilience and recovery) and user satisfaction (e.g. whether users can control their interior environment, such as temperature, light, ventilation, etc.; occupant surveys). Similarly, the category of sustainable and healthy lifestyle consists of four groups of indicators: physical health and psychological well-being (e.g. access to nature, opportunities for physical activity and relaxation); motivation to sustainable behaviour (e.g. user-friendly facilities for waste separation, energy monitoring display); education / communication with users (e.g. info-events, sustainability guide, technical manual) and mobility (e.g. facilities for active occupants, alternative forms of transport).

The category of architecture – design quality consists of three groups of indicators: design quality (e.g. architecture and urban design competition, independent panel of experts), design strategies (e.g. regional priority, flexible design) and participation (e.g. integral planning, scope of requirements planning). The weighting given to building-related architectural quality in certifications is 5.64% on average. Considering different certification profiles, the highest average weighting of design quality of 10.94% is given to interiors, the lowest of 0.4% to the profiles – buildings in use and operation and maintenance. In addition, DGNB introduced an additional certificate DGNB ‘Diamond’ to recognize and appreciate well-designed architecture. Besides certification systems, there are tools developed specially to assess design quality of buildings, for instance UK Design Quality Indicator (DQI). There is an interconnectedness between design and social quality criteria which shows that design quality is extremely important for user well-being and satisfaction.

The category of social responsibility consists of three groups of indicators: responsible sourcing (e.g. use of regional and certified materials), influence on the district (e.g. attractiveness, air, noise and light pollution reduction measures) and construction site (e.g. low-noise, low-dust and low-waste construction site) and is weighted on average at 5.24%.

The importance of sociocultural aspects has been recognized in sustainable building certification systems. Still, such topics as user satisfaction, quality of life and health or design quality are rather subjective in comparison to measurable environmental and energy-saving indicators and require individual assessment.

Keywords: social sustainability, building certification, architectural design quality, user satisfaction, sustainable architecture, quality of life