From the Architect's Desk
Communication with a residential project client can be easy or fraught with difficulties.
“They just don’t get it,” or “I am not getting the ideas across,” can seem like the overriding themes of a meeting. But it does not have to be. I find that with a few distinct communication techniques, client meetings can go from “What the…?” to “Yes, please!”
The Urban Dictionary [http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=archispeak] defines archispeak as:
“Large, made-up words that architects and designers use to make themselves sound smarter than you (you being the client or the confused observer of design). It does nothing to inform or enlighten the consumer of architecture and mostly serves to numb them into obedience or self doubt.”
Or in the wonderful article in ArchDaily [http://www.archdaily.com/775615/150-weird-words-that-only-architects-use].
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard an associate refer a client to areas “poché-d” on the plans, only to be met with a blank stare. I would quickly jump in and explain that it was a reference to the shaded grey areas that show an existing wall. I do not speak of the “Charrette” or the “Parti” or the “Fenestration”. These are wonderful, juicy words that we as architects can have fun with. But when trying to communicate with my clients they do nothing but establish a barrier. [Do Architects really wear black and say “Recontextualisation?”]
DO walk/talk through the plans
I always “walk” my clients through drawings. And we draw a lot. I start at the front door (or at an entry) and describe, visually, the path as we move a pencil along the drawings. It may go something like this: “As you look straight ahead you will see XYZ and to the right is a window looking over the garden.” I have been known to make “step-step-step/up-up-up” sounds to help visualize the experience of changing floor levels. I know it is second nature for us in the profession to understand the “stair break” symbol, but certainly not for most of my clients. That level change is downright baffling. The same goes for dotted or dashed lines indicating something above four feet. While I get what those dashes mean, talking my client through what is happening above and below really helps establish a comfort level for them. We draw interior views (“elevations” in archispeak) and cross sections, and I walk them through the potential “head-whackers” like low dormers. [The do’s and dont’s of Dormers]
DO model from life and photos
Three-dimensional modeling is wonderful, but sometimes you need to relate a concept to an actual space. I often use our conference room to help clients visualize a room’s size or ceiling height. Whenever possible, I will meet in a client’s existing home where we can relate room and window sizes. If there is a request for a big porch, we will go visit some or at least look at some photos so we’re on the same page about what constitutes “big.” In the concept design and design development phases, we use images and layouts that show furniture in the design as that really helps people understand available space and conflicts with door swings. As soon as I draw four Adirondack chairs on a porch we begin to get the size of the space. Believe me, I do not want to hear when the space is finished, “I thought that my club chair would fit.”
As in all things, communication is the key. There’s no point in being eloquent in Archispeak or incomprehensible to those who cannot read drawings as it only slows down the process and distances me from the trust of my client. I’d rather stand on a chair to illustrate scale and height than be known for how well I can turn a phrase.