Quality Is Not Just a Luxury!

Backgrounder 1 - Luxury

La qualité ce n'est pas un luxe

First of all, it’s important to have a shared understanding of what quality means. What is quality in design and architecture? How do we talk about it, describe it and characterize it? How do we define the quality objectives of a project and how to achieve them? What strategies and actions should we use? What are the potential benefits of quality? What is the scale of the investment required? By answering these questions, we demonstrate that quality is not merely a luxury—it is an asset. It is the key to achieving responsible, sustainable urban development for today’s generations and those of the future.

To learn more about the City of Montréal's position towards quality in design and architecture, consult Montréal Agenda 2030 for Quality and Exemplarity in Design and Architecture.

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

Quality in design and architecture: 

  • Is a multidimensional concept
  • Requires proper planning and preliminary studies 
  • Takes account of the needs and expectations of users and communities
  • Requires quality objectives established collectively and that change with the context
  • Is an open, collaborative process anchored in dialogue
  • Requires strategies and actions to be implemented at every stage of the project
  • Requires investments planned and prioritized according to the project objectives
  • Has the potential to optimize construction, operation and maintenance costs
  • Is a driver of economic attraction, talent retention and distinctive identity
What is Quality

What is Quality

“High-quality Baukultur is elusive, but it is neither a subjective matter of taste, nor a purely formal issue. The individual experience of the quality of a place varies depending on the living situation, on prosperity or poverty, age and lifestyle. Yet common denominators and values of high quality can be defined and objectively assessed. Quality is a dynamic concept and depending on the time chosen, an assessment made about the quality of a place may be different. The specific situation must be considered.”

The Davos Baukultur Quality System, 2018

In other words, the idea of quality is complex and dependent on context. The expectations of the various stakeholders in a project can vary, or even diverge, depending on their respective perceptions and needs. Their expectations can change over time and space and may be expressed ahead of, during and after project implementation. Quality must therefore be appreciated in a collaborative manner, at all stages of a project: from planning through to conceptualization and completion, and over its full life cycle.

From this perspective, implementation of quality begins with the project vision statement and manifests itself during all stages of completion, using strategies selected to promote attainment of the objectives established. 

The Dimensions of Quality

The Dimensions of Quality

Design and architecture are cross-cutting practices with potential to act on various dimensions of quality in the living environment and contribute to the key objectives of sustainable development. The Montréal 2030 Agenda for Quality and Exemplarity in Design and Architecture envisions six major dimensions of quality: 

Quality in design and architecture helps shape a city that is conducive to health and wellness for all, more socially equitable, pluralistic and inclusive, more environmentally responsible, more economically efficient, more culturally attractive and fulfilling, and more resilient to crises and changes. 

Here are some avenues of inquiry for identifying opportunities in design and architecture for each of the six dimensions of quality.

  • Mitigating the impacts of climate-related hazards
  • Mitigating the impacts of industrial hazards
  • Minimizing requirements in terms of essential resources and services
  • Ensuring methods for rapid repurposing
  • Facilitating emergency or crisis response actions

To learn more about resilience

  • Helping to achieve carbon neutrality objectives
  • Making responsible use of resources
  • Contributing to the richness of natural surroundings
  • Reducing environmental pollution
  • Reducing environmental impacts over the full lifecycle of projects

To learn more about environmental responsability.

  • Contributing to a neighbourhood’s prosperity
  • Enhancing a neighbourhood’s attractiveness
  • Taking a lifecycle approach to cost-benefit analyses
  • Remaining trend-proof
  • Providing opportunities for pooling of resources
  • Emphasizing common spaces and services of quality
  • Incorporating energy-efficient technologies

To learn more about economic efficiency.

  • Recognizing, protecting and valuing the site’s history
  • Integrating sensitively with the site context
  • Enhancing the lived experience
  • Encouraging rich and diversified cultural and artistic life

To learn more about cultural attractiveness.

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
  • Responding to user needs equitably
  • Making the site accessible to as many people as possible
  • Contributing to a sense of shared identity
  • Improving the dynamics of Living Together
  • Developing modes of co-existence

To learn more about equity, divesity and inclusion.

Health and Wellness
  • By taking an interest in users' emotional wellness
  • By taking an interest in users' physical wellness
  • By reducing health and safety hazards
  • By providing safe sites and facilities
  • By contributing to users' fulfilment

To learn more about health and wellness.

These dimensions of quality are intrinsically linked

These Dimensions of Quality Are Intrinsically Linked

One exemplary action in the area of environmental responsibility (e.g., an urban farming initiative led by a social reintegration community group) may have positive impacts on crisis resilience (e.g., food security), economic efficiency (e.g., revenues from processing and marketing of fresh products), equity, diversity and inclusion (e.g., empowerment of members of a vulnerable population) or health and wellness (e.g., sense of accomplishment, skills development). 

Strategies and actions to help achieve these major objectives can be incorporated into any project. The key is evaluating, ahead of time and in a concerted manner, and/or acting in order to have the greatest possible impact. The project’s Quality Vision must then be effectively communicated and implemented.

Use the Compass to define the quality vision for your project and objectives to be achieved.

The Benefits of Quality

The Benefits of Quality

Urban Scene

Quality in design and architecture is everybody’s business because it affects our living environments, every component of which shades our perception and experience (e.g., streets, schools, hospitals, businesses). And because each site is unique, it’s important to properly grasp how and to what degree a project can contribute to that uniqueness. In this way, step by step, project by project, transformations happen at larger scales. Because quality is multidimensional, all parties can take up the challenge of acting on one or another dimension, and in so doing generate impacts and benefits of varying kinds and scales. 

For example: 

library that offers services accessible to everyone, flexible and adaptable reading and work spaces, biophilically designed spaces that are connected to nature, and common spaces that are shared with local community groups, contributes to users’ health and wellness. It is also a driver of eduity, diversity and inclusion for client groups and staff. The community activity programs offered will see improved participation and social mix, there will be a stronger sense of community belonging, and retention of librarians and volunteer staff will be higher. 

public square with spatial organization that blends multiple functions and types of spaces, features easily demountable and modular street furniture, incorporates public art installations or works that help amplify the history and identity specific to the site, and has clear signage that promotes safe coexistence of different transportation modes, also generates multidimensional benefits. It acquires symbolic value and serves as a gathering place for members of the surrounding communities, allows everyone to experience the space at their own pace and according to their needs, attracts visitors, and promotes traffic to nearby retail businesses.

park that features multigenerational spaces for rest and play, biodiversity-rich landscaping, permeable soils and wetlands along with a secure urban lighting system with low impact on biodiversity, generates benefits for users as well as the environment. It becomes a haven of tranquility for the community, an additional segment for reconnecting green and blue biodiversity corridors, and an opportunity for reintroducing native wildlife and plant species in an urban setting. 

commercial thoroughfare with a distinctive signature, spaces that obey principles of universal design and features that are adaptable in the event of a health crisis, will attract visitors who seek a renewed, welcoming and safe experience. Besides raising the profile of the neighbourhood and contributing to a local sense of belonging, that commercial vitality will attract families and rally retailers around their local business association, leading to more collective actions and benefits.

Investing in Quality

Investing in Quality

Architecture and design imprint our landscapes (both tangible and intangible) and reflect the values of our society. They are part of the common good, a legacy bequeathed to future generations, and as such, it is incumbent upon us to plan our actions and investments from a perspective of social responsibility. 

The participatory approach taken in developing the Montréal 2030 Agenda for Quality and Exemplarity in Design and Architecture highlighted the fact that a desire to incorporate quality into the design/build process tends to come up against various organizational and management challenges. To improve the process, six strategies were developed. 

Depending on the nature and scale of the project, a quality-management plan can be developed to arrive at targeted strategies and actions to be implemented that will maximize the benefits of quality. This management plan is in itself an investment in quality, because planning and implementing it requires time and resources (human, material and financial). 


How can team members be mobilized and engaged toward attainment of the project’s quality objectives?

  • By developing the quality-management plan as a group 
  • By appointing a quality champion
  • By identifying the right expertise profiles
  • By validating the availability and stability of the team 

To learn more about strategies to mobilize and engage.


How can communication be a lever for achieving greater benefits with the project?

  • By consulting a broader audience
  • By emphasizing transparency of the decision-making process

To learn more about strategies to communicate.


How should the project experience be envisioned in a way that extends beyond the program functional and technical parameters and that encapsulates its essence?

  • By conducting preliminary studies 
  • By drawing inspiration from transferable best practices
  • By setting the table for innovation
  • By exploring diverse scenarios 
  • By challenging the preliminary vision
  • By anchoring the final vision to the budgetary and scheduling metrics

To learn more about strategies to envision.


How can a commissioning process that promotes quality in design and architecture be structured?

  • By using a tendering process that emphasizes quality
  • By using a design or architecture competition process 
  • By fostering networking with emerging professionals 
  • By stimulating the market

To learn more about strategies to entrust.


How can the project be questioned and reframed at the conceptual stage so as to optimize the possible solutions and enhance the quality of the project?

  • By setting up a design panel
  • By setting up a prototyping lab
  • By implementing aprocessofintegrated design and value engineering

To learn more about strategies to reframe and review.


How can project quality be sustained over the long term? 

  • By conducting a lifecycle analysis
  • By emphasizing flexibility and adaptability
  • By drawing up a quality-assessment plan
  • By selecting a quality manager
  • By contributing to collective learning

To learn more about strategies to sustain quality.

A Recipe accessible to Everyone

Taken together, these strategies and actions refer to openness, collaboration and dialogue: a recipe that is accessible to everyone, in different formats. It is therefore up to each individual to assess their team’s needs and capacities for action—step by step. What measures can be implemented to foster project quality?

Use the Compass Quality Operation exercise to target the strategies and actions in which to invest

Quality Is Not Just a Luxury

Quality Is Not Just a Luxury

Investments in time and resources at key moments in the process not only foster creativity and innovation; they also mitigate the direct and indirect future financial risks that result when challenges are deficiently addressed early in a project.

Too often, there is a desire to do things quickly with limited resources, and projects soon become obsolete. That desire stems from poor understanding of the potential returns on investment during the process.

Over the very short term, projects that are rushed through the planning or design stages can become severe social, environmental and financial burdens (e.g., public outcry, lack of traction in the market, high operation and maintenance costs, obsolescence, renovations). Investing in quality is thus a wise choice for the long term.

Proportionally, the additional effort required to implement a quality approach at the planning and design stages typically equates to 5% of the total project costs. And the decisions made at this step in the process have an enormous incidence on subsequent operation and maintenance costs.

In fact, the share of planning and design expenses declines when measured against the lifecycle costs of a project and not simply the construction cost (which is the standard basis for calculating professional fees).

This breakdown places the share of the design costs in the overall project cost into perspective. This stage must therefore be viewed as a long-term investment, over the full lifecycle of the project, rather than as an expense to be kept to a minimum.

The Quality Lifecycle

Lifecycle assessment is a method for evaluating the quality of projects over the long term. It enables evaluation of the impacts and costs involved in all stages of a product’s life, i.e., from extraction of raw materials to their processing, manufacturing, distribution, use, repairs and maintenance, and ultimately their disposal or recycling.

CIRAIG, 2022

Learn more about strategies and actions that help sustain quality throughout the entire project lifecycle.