The client and architect relationship.

Posted by on Mar 9, 2015 in Blog, How to/ Tips | No Comments


“I don’t know why people hire architects and then tell them what to do” Frank Ghery (world famous architect). I must confess that when hearing Frank utter those words recently, I gave out a sigh and thought – finally, someone understands!

When a client and architect come together, a delicate dance between the client’s vision and the architect’s creativity will bring to life great architecture. Without that balance toes will be squashed, and quite possibly blood and sequins splashed across the dance floor!

The architect, like any designer, is excited about the opportunity to explore ideas and be creative. They hope their client will be brave enough to let their imagination run free and create for them a masterpiece.

The client arrives with their dream of a new house in one hand, and their hard earned money in the other. Nerves are running high, they are spending a large amount of their money, will they get a house they love?!

With so much expectation and money involved, how do you ensure this relationship, a long term one at anywhere from 1-3 years depending on the project, goes smoothly? Over my time I’ve learnt the necessary ingredients to ensure the clients’ dream house is realised, the architect is proud to put their name to it, and the process of getting there is an enjoyable one. Here is my recipe for a successful client and architect relationship:

1. Style:

It’s important to understand that all architects have their own unique style. My style has developed from years of study, exploring ideas, continually (more like obsessively) looking at buildings and developing an understanding of what I feel creates great spaces. From this I’ve formed my own design language (or style).

It’s essential for the success of the project to find an architect whose style you like. Imagine for a moment you go to a Chinese restaurant and ask for spaghetti bolognese. You will most likely get a strange look. If you visit an architect whose work is modern, and you ask for classical house, you too will get a strange look. I live and breathe architecture, so to have to create something I don’t like or believe in, is heartbreaking!

My work/style:

A classical house, very far from my style. 
Classical house Melbourne

Your vision cannot be realised by someone who sees differently to you. Before meeting with an architect, spend time on their website or go see their work. Would you love to live in one of their houses? Keep looking for an architect until the answer is yes!

2) Communication:

As in any good relationship much of it comes down to good communication. This begins with knowing and understanding what is being designed. A list of rooms needed is essential and is often what a new client brings to a first meeting. However, I also want to know about you. I’ve found the best client briefs are those that talk about their lifestyle – how they live in their home, are they entertainers etc, their taste and I want to get a feel for their personalities. You engage an architect to have a home designed specifically for you. The more I know about you, the more I can tailor this house to suit you. So tell me every little thing…

It’s also important to find an architect who will listen and design for you. I’ve heard of so many stories of architects forcing their design upon their clients with no room for change. Your feedback during the design phase tells me if I’m on track. Sometimes feedback can result in the need for significant changes that I feel will compromise my design. My approach has always been to re-design until both I’m proud of what I’ve created, and my clients are 100% happy.

This may be my design but it is not my house. It’s a team effort!

3) Trust:

Be open to the possibilities presented to you. If your preconceived notion of what you want is too fixed, you leave no space for the architect to be creative. If you have a design in your head or a photograph of exactly what you want, then why go to an architect? This goes back to the opening quote – “I don’t know why people hire architects and then tell them what to do”. Having followed ingredient number one of my recipe you’ve established you love their style, so trust this, as you’ll be getting something with a similar flavour.

A lot of time and thought goes into my designs. When presenting a design I want my clients to appreciate and understand how the design works and the thinking behind it, as I want them to know the benefits they will enjoy. I encourage you not to discard a design at first glance; take the time to listen and understand it first, then judge it. Being open minded to something you may not have expected, presents the opportunity to have a house even better than you imagined. If there is a part of the design you don’t like that’s ok, it’s part of the process, say so, it’s your house. Having said that, know the balance between giving feedback and telling the architect how to design the house.

One of the biggest challenges for me is that whilst I can see the proposed design in my head as if it’s built and I’m in it, most my clients can’t visualise the design. The 3D computer software I use helps my clients immensely, but it only goes so far. Our peripheral vision is far greater than a computer model can replicate, so the size of rooms is really hard to read. I mention this as the most common concern I hear from my clients is – are the rooms big enough? Never in 18 years of practicing as an architect has a client ever told me once they’ve moved in, that they do not have enough space. Instead I hear – “I’m so glad I listened to your advice and did not make that room bigger”. Trust your architect’s expertise, but ask whatever you need to make sure all your concerns have been heard are answered.

In conclusion:

We all dream of a beautiful home. To realise that with an architect should be an exciting process, not a stressful one.

Clients bring a beautiful point of difference to each of my projects. The different personalities give me a distinct criteria to work with, that pushes me to explore my love of designing houses in new and exciting ways.

Now go make sweet sweet houses with your architect!!

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