At first glance, fashion is an unusual item to feature in a discussion about whole life value. But it is probably one of the most important issues – and may even be the most important. Because it is not derived from technical issues, it is not based around any mainstream construction or material world logic. It is driven by social interactions and collective considerations from the wider world. From time to time, fashions do stem from technical advances (such as the iPod). We occasionally take up a change of direction and embrace it, making a significant change in the way we view and use the physical world. There is a need to consider the wider issues concerning fashion and its effects on buildings. Fashion often results in a changing need in the built environment. This will make

some buildings redundant, sometimes dramatically, but generally by stealth. Small changes, but critical ones, devalue carefully crafted designs, making any attempt at long life seem wholly irrelevant. We need to learn from the way Victorian buildings, built to a completely different

ethic from current practice, are able to be modified, albeit with a degree of compromise. It is interesting to reflect whether any of our current generation of buildings will exist in 80, 50, or even just 20 years. Some will by luck; but many will not have the same ability to adapt or to be seen as useful. These shifts are brought about through changes in the deeper elements that affect

day-to-day economics: the way we plan and shape society, and the way the politics of the everyday has an effect on the material world. Often buildings may have their anticipated life partly or completely cut short due to

a shift in fashion. This can be direct – for example, the demise of many railway stations as a result of the Beeching Report; or indirect – as in the increase in mobile phones seeing off the phone box, but will ultimately have the same effect. Perfectly viable buildings, with many years’ good service, are brought to a sudden end. The key issue is that we have very little control over how and when fashion will strike, and what effect it may have. Fashion can affect the master planning level – the growth of out-of-town shopping

centres; or it can make small changes that are nonetheless significant enough to considerably affect life-value issues – television saw off the cinema until it reinvented itself. The direct influence of fashion is seen in finishes and performance. Over very short

periods, we see fashion support or alienate everyday materials, with major effects on the commercial value of a building, and therefore its life. Additionally, the ability of a particular element to perform to a particular level can also be seen as fashion. We embrace or reject at a very whimsical level. So the render or timber cladding so popular at one moment can

bring on the early demise of a building: while the materials themselves, and the building’s functioning, may be perfectly acceptable, its commercial value may be reduced, resulting in early demolition. Several years ago, double glazing was seen as an important improvement over single

glazing, ensuring energy conservation, avoiding condensation and improving comfort conditions. However, only a few years on, that advance is no longer good enough, and enhanced performance is required to be several times better, prematurely bringing many installations to an end. Is there anything that can be done about this? While fashion is notoriously difficult

to second-guess over the long term, there are some principles to follow that ensure some degree of stability.