This month’s musings from across the architect’s drawing board reflect on matching the client with the architect. Most articles about selecting an architect suggest checking references, viewing previous work, and taking the time to talk to a number of architects before hiring one. These are important aspects in the selection process, and should be followed. But I would like to introduce another idea that may be even more important: Defining who you are as a client.
Just as each project, house, and homeowner are unique, architects have unique characteristics, too. An essential step to your successful project begins with understanding who you are as a client. Once you better understand yourself and your project needs, selecting an architect can be a more considered process, and you will have better success in finding the right match.
The Manager Client and the Specialized Architect
Do you want the latest kitchen, hottest design trends, or the newest materials, but don’t really know how to obtain them? Do you prefer to have information provided to you rather than doing the researching yourself? If you want to be lead through the design process by an architect who provides strong design recommendations, then you may be the type of client I have defined as the Manager. You want to be involved throughout the design phase, and you want to be told which ideas are best and where the most recent trends are heading.
Your architect should Specialize in your particular type of project. She should stay current with developments for your project type, have many successful similar projects, and identify herself as specializing in your type of project in brochures, website, and printed materials.
During the design process, you should expect to be presented with design recommendations and be guided toward a particular solution. Since you want the research on the latest ideas and materials to come to you, your architect who specializes in your project type will have strong ideas for your particular design.
The Collaborator Client and the Generalist Architect
Do you have a rough idea of what you want in your project? Have you done the research and have a treasure trove of scattered ideas for materials and design ideas? Do you want to work with someone who will help bring your dream into reality? You are a Collaborator and your best match is to work with an architect who defines himself as a Generalist. A generalist architect will have a variety of project types and a broad experience. His design process will encourage several very different design options and work with the clients to fine tune the option that appeals the most to them. An essential characteristic is the stated ability to listen to the client. Whereas in the Manager/Specialist match above, the client is expected to do a lot of listening to the specialist’s recommendations, in the Collaborator/Generalist match, the architect must do a lot of listening to the client. If you determine you are a Collaborator, note whether or not the prospective architect demonstrates the ability to listen. Everyone will say they listen, but do they actually practice what they preach? When you interview them, are they genuinely interested in what you have to say?
Before you hire an architect, do some self reflection and determine if you are a Manager or a Collaborator. Identify prospective architects and then talk to them. If the architect emphasizes her previous projects and her deep understanding of similar projects, she is likely a specialist. On the other hand, if your prospective architect asks you a lot of questions about your project, and listens intently to your answers, you are likely talking to a generalist. Let this information help guide you in finding the perfect match of client with architect.
John Perkins AIA is a registered Oregon Architect and Certified Sustainable Building Advisor (CSBA) with more than 30 years experience. His office provides commercial and residential design services and “Invisible Additions.” Perkins can be contacted at 503-287-7468 or visit www.perkinsarch.com.