good client, good architecture

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Behind every good architect is a good client; good clients are necessary to good architecture. Don’t take the wanted poster too far, we need living clients. We want good clients; we have good clients.

After all these years of practicing architecture, one conclusion that I am comfortable making (and I hope other architects agree) is that good projects require good clients. Good architecture follows along. I acknowledge that the absence of said person doesn’t preclude good architecture, but it makes it quite difficult and near impossible in most situations. This goes for residential or commercial projects, from doghouses to skyscrapers.

Read enough about architecture and one will typically find in the story where the client was active and involved; that client was likely a good client. It is true that we can find colorful stories and tumultuous relationships, even adversarial partings between the client and the architect occurring at times. Nevertheless, the client who paid for the building must have positive contributions that extend beyond merely writing a check.

We could talk all day about the different types of clients that we’ve had, but that could prove endless and divert our attention to fruitless areas. It can be established that there are experienced clients and inexperienced clients. Experienced clients have worked with architects on multiple occasions, they understand the process, they navigate through proposals, contracts and the startup process well. Getting to the “meat” of the project is something they’re generally eager to do as the rest is familiar. Inexperienced clients have never worked with an architect, or perhaps they did on one occasion with varied results. I guide my prospective clients to educate themselves quickly on basic matters so they can be informed and make decisions early on that they’ll not regret later in the process. Educated (and empowered) consumers are great people with which to work.

Aside from the level of experience, three categories came to mind as I considered this topic, but there are limitless versions and hybrids. I move forward carefully as I dare not insult any of my clients or potential clients either intentionally or accidentally. Respect and appreciation is something that should always come to their mind as they consider their relationship with me. For the most part, I’ve been extremely fortunate.

  1. Indifferent client – Unfortunately, this client may not see the architect as a volitional choice, but as a dictate beyond their control. They tend not to value or care about the contributions or the input of the professional, but perceive it merely as a mandated governmental stepping stone to get to their goal of having a structure where they can conduct their business. In other words, they’re told they must hire an architect, therefore they (grudgingly) move forward. They’re not hostile, they’re just not interested. I have found there is often a lack of understanding of value available and the fee paid is merely an expense rather than an investment in a service and a relationship that can yield not only shelter, but lend branding, increased productivity and health to their business. I may have thickened my hyperbole for the sake of a point, but one must be careful when an inquiry comes in from this type of client.
  2. Frugal cheerleader – This client often has limited resources, but seeks the best value with the best fitted architect for the best architecture that that they can get for their investment. They tacitly or overtly challenge their architect despite a limited budget, often suffering through cuts and compromises, yet remain passionate enough to trust their architect to make the best of their limited resources. If this client lends appropriate freedom, unexpected positive results can ensue within great constraints. Good results can occur if expectations are managed well, disappointment can come when the root of the idea is lost when the money is not there.
  3. Indulgent artists – This might be the client most architects think they want; however, that’s not always true. This client is willing to pay to get what they want – at any cost. They afford tremendous latitude, demand the highest quality which often leads to the deepest of exploration. Frequently, these projects appear on the cover of our favorite magazines. This is certainly something to celebrate if this occurs, but my caution is with no limits to budget, there is no limit to expectations. As both parties agonize over the details to achieve a unique work of art, tumultuous struggles occur which may have unfortunate consequences. This could go either way. Tread carefully.

Regardless of what traits you might exhibit as a client, the one aspect that can make the most difference in the result is the client engagement and open relationship with the architect. Whether the project is large or small, I have found the best projects come from a client that is involved in the process, interested in the result and contributes their vision balanced with an unmistakable trust for their architect. When one first seeks a professional that best fits with their personality and needs, but is well suited with their project type, that sets them up for success and satisfaction. After having hired the architect and worked through the program and constraints, let the architect do their job. Don’t design for them, don’t hold their arm while they draw, but trust them to find the best solution within the context. There needs to be ongoing dialogue and continuing exchange during this process, but the worst thing one can do is tell the architect that they think they “have it all figured out”, then expect the architect to merely ‘draw it up’ to either reduce the fee or give a feeling of having designed it themselves.

This mode of thinking expands beyond hiring of design professionals. Be a good client (or customer) with whatever services you hire a professional for assistance. Once you’ve made the right choice, let them do their job – whether they are architects, accountants, graphic designers, photographers, computer repair persons, bakers or baristas. If you don’t get the result you want, perhaps the error wasn’t on the part of the professional but in your choice or your contributions (or lack of trust) to the one you hired in the first place. It’s something to think about today. Seek out good clients rather than good projects.

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Image 2 credit: By The U.S. Army (Searching for opposing forces) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

good client, good architecture

my hero c-of-o

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I’m trying to make this interesting; bear with me.

As a kid growing up in the 1970s and 1980s I recall a fantastic campaign, teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic to children using songs and cleverly written videos. How many of us use those mnemonic devices today to remember important parts of history, math or English grammar (hopefully correctly)? I personally liked the one about the number zero.

Now that I’ve planted that tune in your head, allow me to address a common problem we as architects encounter with our commercial property owner clients. It has nothing to do with zero apart from the response I get from property owners.

There is a simple document (i.e. plain piece of paper) that is crucial as we evaluate existing buildings and guide building owners on their journey in the renovation or adaptive reuse process. It is called a certificate of occupancy; or in industry jargon a “C of O.” It is a certificate that confirms or validates that the building was built legally per the building codes in place at the time of construction. Typically, a building design is submitted by an architect or similar design professional, reviewed by trained examiners, issued a permit by a local municipality and inspected throughout the process of construction. When completed and a final inspection performed, a building official issues the renowned C of O.

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This vital document is something every potential building owner should ask for from the real estate agent or property seller when considering the purchase of the building. Most of the time you’ll probably not find this document because it is either lost or never existed. However, I cannot stress enough how important it is in our day and age as a proverbial ‘line in the sand’ measuring tool for going forward in our evaluation.

If it does exist, then it becomes the basis of the beginning of our evaluation. We can be assured that the building was approved. This is considered legal occupancy. Therefore, any changes renovations, or additions that are planned begin at that point and play out from there. If this document does not exist or can’t be found, then it makes it more difficult for the architect. It makes it especially difficult for the building owner as their architect must proceed on the basis that their building is not recognized as an existing building (seriously – even if you can stand in front of it and see it or stand in it), but must follow a process or certifying (or re-certifying) the building – often with unexpected code upgrades required.

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The degree of building code (life-safety) upgrades or accessibility (handicap) upgrades required could be greater if no such document exists. Let’s just say it gets complicated.

If you are a building owner, go check right now in that WWII era metal filing cabinet and see if you have this certificate. If you are working with a real estate agent and looking at commercial properties, ask them or the seller to consult the local municipality or state department in charge of filing such documents. Otherwise, someone will need to start from scratch.

If your project is in Pennsylvania, I can address your issues more specifically; in fact, I have written previous posts addressing some of the challenges to the process. We have many exciting projects on the boards (and recently built) and the designs are intended to offer a positive experience. What few acknowledge, is behind the scenes, we are also work through the issues stated above. It’s what we do as architects.

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Photo 1 (altered by me): Disney Wikia

my hero c-of-o

architects’ architect?

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***warning*** If you ask me to respond again to this question tomorrow, my answer will be different.

I read an interesting article recently, that was shared by a good friend of mine, where the author posits that there are architects, that are largely appreciated only by architects, whose architecture is primarily “about architecture.” Continue reading “architects’ architect?”

architects’ architect?