Managing sustainability through architectural design decision processes
: influences of values and frames

  • Richard Perry Kulczak-Dawkins

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC), the management of project sustainability impacts is driven by both mandatory regulations, and by individual commitments which imply acceptance by choice through conscious decision. Despite initial willingness, project sustainability outcomes can betray expectations and potential, with opportunities missed for improvements on baseline regulations. Where regulations leave room for more personally-meaningful decision- making opportunities towards sustainability, previous studies showed that cognitive limitations and
non-technical barriers contribute to achieving lower sustainability standards than intended, or possible. However, empirical research is scarce on the role of linking underpinning human influences with decisions - potentially protecting decision-making opportunities which support more individually-meaningful, contextualised choices towards longer-term goals. Importantly, these types of discussions dominate final outcomes of (un-) sustainability in AEC projects, and more sustainability-biased solutions may require better decision-options linked to stakeholders’ values.
Adopting a case-based grounded approach, a theoretical framework and analytical lens used human values—as conceptions of most worthwhile, meaningful, and significant ideals or goals—overlaid on communication frames—as both representations and sources of meaning. The overall aim was to first identify and map their influences in typical decision-making discussions impacting sustainability, then find where any opportunities for meaningful choice survives or can thrive. Through interviews, focus groups, and questionnaires, architect-client discussions were explored from architect’s perspectives. To track how values and frames influenced decision-making, values-influence pathways were mapped via frames to decisions in client-project cases.

The main findings showed how spaces for meaningful choices were made and opportunities spent when frames met values with varying compatibility based on the individual, values-based meaningfulness of framed sustainability decision problems and associated choice-options. Numerous architects were tacitly identifying client values then ‘framing to values’ for decisions favouring sustainability during early, more aspirational briefing and design stages. Problematically, it unexpectedly emerged that later frames of critical challenges found in all cases typically activated less-supportive and higher-priority values associated with cost/profit, benefit, risk, loss, conflict or complexity to elicit unfavourable decisions, where sustainability measures normally reduced from initial agreements. This means that together ‘values-and-frames’ play significant but typically unacknowledged roles in sustainability decision-making. When heeded, values-and-frames can be harnessed for improvements to the interpersonal spaces for stakeholders to make more individually-meaningful, values-based sustainability choices. Such decisions are more likely to endure by coordinating decision-problem and choice-option frames with decision-makers’ values. The findings contribute new insights toward knowledge of how values-and-frames interactions both constrain and can improve deciding about architectural sustainability.
Date of AwardApr 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorPoorang Piroozfar (Supervisor) & Marie Harder (Supervisor)


  • architectural design management
  • communication framing
  • decision-making processes
  • frame analysis
  • human values
  • influences
  • sustainability

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