We spoke with an architect and an interior designer and asked them to say what was essential, what was desirable and what to avoid in the client relationship from their viewpoint.
It is essential from the outset [for the architect] to work with the client to determine their vision for the project. This in reality usually means working with a core group of decision makers within the client organization who each know their defined roles and responsibilities. The need for a well thought through business case and brief is very important and cannot be overestimated. These need to be refined by regular dialogue both informally and in formal meetings. It is important to have a sense of urgency – in order to maintain project momentum. Realistic funding particularly if the brief is ambitious is vital. We don’t do miracles!
It is clearly desirable in projects in universities and colleges for the architect to have access to all key stakeholders and to have a continuing relationship with the same client representatives throughout the course of the project.
The nightmare things to avoid are unrealistically short timescales as design will be compromised by this and mistakes can be costly. Also to be avoided are a badly defined brief as this leads to time inefficiency and frustration on all sides, and bureaucracy should be minimised at all costs as it gets in the way of progress.
What will the architect expect of you? Colin Allan, Building Design Partnership
It is desirable to have one point of contact with someone within the client organisation. Often the best designs are those where many people have contributed – so many inputs into the design is fine, but too many people with ‘sign off’ responsibility in the client organisation inevitably leads to disagreements, confusion and delays.
Regular meetings are also desirable say fortnightly or weekly meetings with clients and user groups will strengthen the project and help to avoid any details being missed. Regular design meetings are also a way of ensuring that everyone feels that they have a voice. In addition to the meetings the ‘single point of contact’ in the client organisation needs to be readily accessible. Particularly on large projects the designer needs to be able to talk with the client on an almost daily basis. Of course email makes this process a little easier, but it is important that the designer can contact the client by telephone or face-to-face as often as possible.
Over management should be avoided at all costs. Sometimes clients can become too involved. Too much management can lead to misinformation and mistakes are often made. Fear is another thing to avoid – but then we covered that under courage above!
What will the interior designer expect of you? Val Clugston and staff - Nomad-RDC Ltd
RIBA’s view on clients
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) runs an annual competition to find the client of the year. They consider clients of all RIBA Award winning schemes but take into account a track record of previous successful commissioning, particularly where this has led to earlier RIBA Awards.
What are the key characteristics of a good client in RIBA’s view? Well, according to RIBA Journal’s Client of the Year survey in 2006 they can include, “being prepared to take calculated risks – with location, with architects, with buildings, [and] with style.” (Blackman, et al., 2006).
Just five of the Top 50 clients in 2006 were educational organisations leading RIBA to comment, “The education sector remains a poor relation, despite its huge building programme… Never mind schools: why aren’t universities more interesting?”. Looking at the intervening years it is fair to say that there has been major progress made in the attainment of ‘interesting’. In 2011 nearly half of RIBA’s Top 50 best new buildings in the UK were educational organisations (14 schools and 9 university buildings)(RIBA, 2011). In 2013, 16 of the 43 best new buildings in the UK and 2 of the Top 9 in the EU were educational organisations (RIBA, 2013).
[Note: in an article in The Independent on 13 June 2013, RIBA president Angela Brady put educational domination down to the “recessionary times” deterring risk-takers within commercial construction fields. However, she also hailed the selection of “really exceptional schools and education buildings” describing them as places which properly invest in the future for their pupils. “There may not be too many award-winning schools to come for some time,” Brady cautioned.]
In 2006 RIBA suggested that the best clients, “have a catalytic role that reaches far beyond individual buildings… Such clients succeed by moving into new areas, by resisting formulaic responses, by learning from the past and by imagining a better future”. (Blackman, et al., 2006).
This aspiration for buildings to contribute to and improve the wider community is an important point to consider in your planning as Richard Florida in his discussion of the concept of ‘quality of place’ says about universities:
University and regional leaders in cities like Philadelphia, Providence and even New Hampshire are actively trying to develop such quality of place in and around their universities.
Richard Florida, Rise of the creative class
As educationalists we all know that our organisations have an important role in societal improvement, but rarely do we think about this in the context of our building plans. However what we build, where we build it and what it looks like can have important consequences for who it attracts to the institution and, more importantly, what it says about us to those we wish to attract in the future as they pass by our campuses.