Architects Should Show Their Work

Architects Should Show Their Work

Architecture is an undervalued profession. There, I said it.

I feel like I spend a large amount of my time with clients (particularly new clients) justifying my cost. Clients come to me with a list of things they need completed, and more often than not, they have an idea of how much those “things” are going to cost, and, more often than not ,my fees are more than that “idea”. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who’s had this experience.

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So, why are we as a profession continually undervalued?

I think I know. I think it’s because my clients don’t really know what I do.

They hire me to design something. We meet to talk about what they need, and what they want, then I retreat to my desk and start working. When I’m ready, I call for a meeting and I present the design to the client. But, before that, I spent weeks and weeks coming up with that design. But, to my client, it must seem like the drawings magically appeared in front of them.

Plus, most of the time I missed something in that first round of concept design. The first pass is never exactly right. And, my client has to sheepishly tell me that maybe this thing that they’re seeing for the first time today isn’t quite what they had in mind. That is a hard thing to say to someone. But, I, as an architect, stiffen my upper lip, take the criticism to heart, and go back the drawing board.

Because, to me, the solution is ALWAYS within the design. So, I’ll keep at it; refining, and revising, and exploring alternatives, and variations. I walk down blind alley after blind alley, until I see a solution. And when I “see” that solution? Finally? It just seems so obvious. It’s the clearest most straight-forward path to the idea. And, I always ask “why didn’t I think of this before”. But, I’ve come to realize that that simple clarity of a solution doesn’t ever come early in the process. It always arrives after a series of lesser, more complex solutions, stumble around the potential design and cloud my vision. And, I probably need to pass through all these alternatives, and flesh out their weaknesses, before I can fully understand the problem. I probably need to endure this series of failures before I can arrive at a solution.

But, to my client? Do they understand the circular path I run in to find the best solution? Do they value the mis-steps and the false-starts and the blind alleys that I knock around in before I come up with something that works? Do I tell them about that path?

I don’t.

And, I doubt if any architect really does.

We tend to present the final solutions. We rarely expose the path we followed to get there. We never show the process.

So, of course our clients don’t value what we did to get here. Of course they don’t understand how many long hours we put into this. Of course they don’t understand how much we put into this idea. How many failed concepts we had to trash to get to this one, How many mistakes, how many mis-steps, how many ideas we had to discard. Of course they don’t understand that.

Because we never tell them.

We only present the best representation of our ideas to our clients. Only those ideas that worked. Nothing less.

And, if that’s all they ever see? Then that’s all they’ll know. And that’s all they’ll have to use as a guide to value our work; That final solution that magically appeared before them.

Maybe, if we want our clients to value the work that we do?

We should show them all the work we did to get here.

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The photo is from pucci.it’s photostream on flickr (used under the creative commons license)