The professional concept of value within the built environment: a conceptual critique

Eccles, Tim (1996) The professional concept of value within the built environment: a conceptual critique. Environments by Design, 1(1), pp. 39-52. ISSN (print) 1352-8564


The concept of value within the built environment professions is typically a narrow understanding related to projected income streams from investment. An investigation of the technical language used within the production of valuations produces an interesting variety of meanings for the same words from different English sources. This leads to a variety of confusions in published works which too often seem to assume meanings that are far from clear. Concepts of value are vague. When these terms are translated into foreign languages, real problems are encountered. Even when a single English meaning can be agreed upon, there is frequently no direct comparison in other languages, which leads to severe problems of application. There seems to be genuine cause for concern in the application of English [British] value concepts under these circumstances. In addition, valuation terminology is the product of the 250 years of development of economic thought since Adam Smith. The concepts of value fall within those ideas developed by the classical and neo classical schools but these theories have become subject to a number of criticisms. There is also a worry over the application of these techniques into economies that are not the product of Smith and his descendants, whose cultures are different. Within such cultures, new rules, norms and social perceptions make English valuations an alien invader of traditional values. Thus, language differences tend to signify major cultural ones that provide illustrations of a general conceptual problem in applying traditional concepts of value. The paper attempts to unify these two concerns into a theory of valuation. It draws from philosophy the notions of the private and public spheres of existence and uses these to propose that there is a value fraction to all valuations that can only be seen in terms of a personal non-market value. These personal values can be literally personal, or seen as national (cultural) norms about value. Valuation techniques fail to recognise the importance of these non-market values which are the result of personal utility and pleasure rather than price, cost, economic utility or profitability. It is argued that serious consequences may flow from this inability or oversight.

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