Michael T. Caistor Principal Architect



Working with an architect: Communication and Listening.

Communication is one of the keys to a successful project. Which includes both expressing your needs clearly and listening. There is a saying that you have one mouth and two ears so you should listen twice as much as talk. One of the biggest issues expressed by clients today is finding an architect that will "listen" to their needs. There are stories about egotistical architects that just want to create monuments to themselves. In reality, some architects do a better job of listening than others but this cliche is exaggerated.

On the other hand, one of the biggest issues expressed by architects is getting clients to listen to their professional advice. Especially with mis-conceptions fed from places like HGTV with their self proclaimed experts that will tell you that design, construction and even real estate development is easy and that anybody can do it (with no money down!). The architect uses their many years of talent, training and experience to find the best solution for the client. Often this will include ideas that the client would not think of. The difference between an architect and just a draftsman is that the architect fullfills the client's programs based on their professional skills and judgement. Whereas the draftsman's knowledge is more limited and typically just draws what they are told by the client. The problem with that is that clients and draftsman usually don't know what they don't know. So if an architect is looking beyond a layman's pre-conceptions it doesn't mean the architect is not listening. It means the architect is using their special skills to arrive at the best solution for the client. Of course, the client has the final say. But the client can see more possibilities through a process of investigating alternatives with the architect. Mutual listening and respect is one of the keys to any successful relationship.

It is the duty of the architect to fullfill the client's needs and protect the client's interests. Even if that means advising the client to revisit their original program. For instance, I had a potential client come to me with a planbook plan designed in the flatlands of Iowa with their revisions to put on a steep mountainside in Colorado. I advised them that the planbook design would not fit there and that custom designing the house to work with Mother Nature was the best quality and most economical route. They said: " No problem. We will just find another architect who will make it work." A few months later I drove by the site and it was ripped apart with excessive excavation. The concretework looked like enough for a Walmart. Then I drove by a few months after that and construction had stopped. A sign in front said " For Sale by Bank". Apparently, they had tried to force their plan on Mother Nature and she spent them out.

The mantra of sales is " the Customer is Always Right". So there are a lot of people who will tell you what you want to hear to get your business. Even some architects. But the true professional puts their client's interest above just getting your money. Even if it means not getting the job. Particularly if there are foreseeable issues. The big payoff of using an architect should be when the final product exceeds the client's expectations. With the client realizing more than they thought was possible at the beginning.