When I first went out on my own as an architect—more than 20 years ago now—I made it one of my goals to be an architect who truly collaborates with my clients. I think most architects would say they also do this, but how it looks in practice definitely varies from firm to firm and from architect to architect.
Every architect goes through a lot of schooling and training to get to where they are professionally. It can be easy for an architect to come away thinking that he or she knows best in every situation when it comes to the design of a home or commercial space. While it’s true that architects have more training and insight into the art and science of building design than the average person, that doesn’t mean the homeowner’s or the building owner’s thoughts and ideas should be dismissed. Their ideas shouldn’t just be merely “tolerated” either, in my opinion—they should be highly encouraged!
While an architect is an expert in what he or she does, the client is the expert in his or her space. They typically have an intimate knowledge of how the space is used on a daily basis (or how they would like it to be used). These two perspectives need to come together in order for the space to function how the client needs it to, requiring a good amount of collaboration.
I’ve had clients come to me with some seemingly wild ideas that I could have dismissed out of hand by saying, “You can’t do that because of this or that code restriction.” However, I always take the time to listen to my clients’ ideas, no matter how crazy they sound at first. I do my best to determine what is behind the request and work with them to come up with a creative way to make their idea a reality.
I once wrote a post for my architecture firm’s blog titled, “The Question that Most Long Beach Architect’s Hate, But We Love.” In this blog post, I talked about how we love it when our firm’s clients come to us with a question that starts with, “Why can’t we just…?” In the blog post, I said, “…the suggestion comes from a person who isn’t burdened by knowing the building codes and therefore won’t dismiss creative ideas due to a potential violation. Once the idea has been presented, chances are, we can find a code and design exception that allows us to do what we initially may have thought to be impossible. Even on the occasion that we can’t accommodate the request because of building codes, zoning restrictions, or structural issues, we can at least use it as a jumping off point to come up with another solution that will satisfy the need or want that is behind the ‘Why can’t we just…’”
No architect, no matter how talented, has a monopoly on great ideas. Great design ideas can come from anywhere, but especially from someone who knows what they want or need with regard to the space in which they live or work.
Maybe it’s because I’m a “people person” by nature, but I truly love hearing my clients’ ideas and working closely with them to create a space they will love and that will inspire them every day. Could I design a beautiful home or commercial space without their help that would look great in my company’s portfolio? Yes. But it probably wouldn’t be the space my client wants or needs, and therefore, it would be hard to consider that project a “success.”
As you look for an architect for your next building or remodeling project, look for one who sees you as a true partner in the design process—one who is willing to collaborate with you from beginning to end to ensure the end result is everything you were envisioning.