Any established Architectural practice (which may be a sole practitioner) will be able to point to its special buildings. There are also favourite clients; there will be a strange synchronicity between these two lists. Is that simply chance? There is also another list of buildings that would have been special which ended-up unbuilt or less special than they should have been.
The Architects are educated in a dream world environment in their Schools of Architecture with design projects that envisage almost none of the usual practical obstacles that beset us later when released into the world. We are encouraged to design big and bold. Planning policies, neighbourhood opinion, technical challenges, budget, all can be swept aside in the quest for the big vision. The one name left off that list was the client – often imaginary or a repurposed brief. That would be it. No further development of the relationship is normally practically possible, maybe a viewing at the end.
Yet the client and Architect working together, sharing a vision energised by passion for the project is a powerful chemistry indeed. The two roles are symbiotic and complementary though. Architects should be expected to bring design knowledge, management experience, problem identification and problem solving skills. We are lateral thinkers, sometimes polymaths and philosophers. The perfect client will recognise the unusual skill set and allow the space for the Architect to use these skills and value them (which with experience embraces the extra challenges of dealing with Planning policies, neighbourhood opinion, technical challenges and budget). Being deeply involved in a project for a client doesn’t mean trying to lead the tame compliant Architect – that would be a recipe for mediocrity.
Design isn’t a linear process anyway. It is multi-layered and instinctive too. It works well with limitations of all sorts and that is where the key role a client can occupy – writing a really good brief. The brief need not be exhaustive which can end up being proscriptive, but capture those ideas that people dine on in Pinterest. Few clients are able to do this or even want to try. Sometimes this doesn’t matter if the client can trust the Architect to interpret the voids or even to use this as part of the creative dialogue.
The other part is of course money. The Architect needs to respect the limitations of the Clients’ budget (and sometimes remind them of it) and also to be able to function without any nagging fears about being paid. The Architect and Client both need to spend the time to define the mutual expectations and responsibilities and despite the fact that all we seem to produce is paper, the experience that has crystallised those ideas is of great value like a Lawyer is with words, principles and arguments, an Accountant with figures and a Doctor with insight into the human condition. Strangely the Architect also could list segments of all those three professions in his/her skill set too.
End of sermon.