Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Candid advice for architects

One time when I was hitch hiking I asked the driver what he did, and he said he was a painter. I thought this was interesting, but wasn't sure whether he was an artist, or a workman. So I asked him what he painted. "Houses", he replied. This didn't help me very much. I was still not sure whether he sat with an easel producing two dimensional impressions of houses, or whether he covered their surfaces with paint. I make no value judgement on the two vocations, and whatever the man did I was grateful he was giving me a lift.

I think sometimes there is a similar confusion with architects. The clients usually just want someone who will make a building for them, but the architects often seem interested in creating a work of art. Here is some advice if you are an architect. If an architect is working for you, you may already know this.

1. Save the models for your mum.

You may be really pleased with the one-in-forty model that you've built of your client's house. But your clients are not three centimetres tall and don't want walls, roof and floors in white plastic. If we were your parents, and you had brought it back from elementary school, we would be really proud and impressed. But we're not your mum and you're not at elementary school. 

We can get 3D simulations on computer games, where we can not only walk through virtual realities, but shoot zombies on the way. CD Roms are given out free with interior decoration magazines that let us see what a room, a building or a space will look like. We'd like to see what the spaces are going to look like from inside, ideally walking around them, looking from different angles and even better with different light from different times of day. This is technically possible and clients deserve it. 

2. Leave your opinions at home. 

Clients are interested in your knowledge, your experience, your judgement and your creativity. We are not paying you for your opinions. 

3. Distinguish the process and the product.

Most people working on the house are entirely involved in the process. The clients are predominantly interested in the product. In other words the completed house. As long as they get the house they want, they may really not care who does it, what order it is done in, where they have to come from, what other jobs they are doing at the moment, or what they had for breakfast. 

Although it's not the primary concern, the client may be very interested in the process, and how the building is made. Most people only build a house once and it's a rare opportunity to see concrete being poured, or a wooden frame going up, or a freshly painted room. Some people don't want to miss a thing!

So don't forget that the finished house is the most important thing for your clients, but don't assume they are not interested in how it gets there.

4. Communicate.

Your job is not really to give the clients what they want. They won't get it! You have to make them want what they are going to get. At the beginning of a building project, everything is possible, the human imagination is boundless and sketches on paper are cheap and unlimited by many of the laws of physics. As the project goes on, this level of satisfaction begins to fall. If we imagine there is 100% satisfaction the moment you decide to build your dream house, then the client is lucky to be over 50% satisfied by the end. As dreams turn to reality, there is a steady erosion of satisfaction and things become impossible, scales are reduced, qualities are sacrificed to the bottom line. 

5. Costs are your problem.

The budget is what we can spend on the house. It's not some vague target that will work as a starting point. That is what we think we can afford to pay. You need to keep under it. We don't really care how much things cost. That's your problem.

6. Study marriage guidance counselling.

If you're dealing with a couple, the easiest thing is to work out who is the more powerful of the two, then to start ignoring the other partner. This makes sense as whoever is more powerful is going to be making the decisions anyway. However, it's cynical, disrespectful and may lead to a divorce. I'm not really sure of the best advice, but you need to know. 

7. Draw the pictures, then go and find another customer.

There are two ways that clients can work with architects. One is to draw the pictures and hand them over. The other is to see the whole project through. I found this out much too late, and it was never really an option given by our architect. I can understand that seeing the whole project through leads to more revenue, and also I imagine there are various opportunities to strengthen relationships with a variety of tradesmen, and maintain fingers in a variety of pies. This is probably especially true in Japan where architects are referred to respectfully as Sensei, and can command undeserved and unrequited respect from a whole industry. Also I can appreciate that holding on to a whole project means not having to worry about finding another client for longer. 

Unless you're really good at project management, you should probably concentrate on drawing and designing. If you are good at project management, then you should probably do that and get someone else to concentrate on drawing and designing.

8. If somebody notices how much time and effort went into your design, then you probably didn't put enough time and effort into it.

And I haven't even started on advice about low energy building, but you can read some here from Proud Green Home. I especially like the idea about not allowing incandescent bulbs onto the building site.