Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Client Relations

The question of which profession is most analogous to architecture is an interesting one, and one that occupied quite a lot of time at this summer's AIA/ACSA Cranbrook Institute. So let's pursue it. What other industries have "clients" rather than "customers?"

Social Services.

The word "client" comes from the latin word cliens, meaning follower or dependent. The Online Etymology Dictionary ( adds that "The ground sense is of one who leans on another for protection."

So as professionals, we protect our clients. We already know that from the health, safety and welfare components of our work, but architects also protect their clients legally and financially.

The question arises, though, whether we have responsibilities to "protect" those who are not our clients. Let's say we're designing a high school (the building type I know best). The client is the party with the checkbook -- the school district, and its State sponsors. So clearly we're required to protect their interests. But there are also innumerable teachers, students, parents, administrative assistants, and coaches who will inhabit this place. Some clients are good at acting as proxies for their ultimate users, and others are awful at it. And then there's the neighborhood surrounding the school -- we have indirect impacts on their lives, through issues of noise and traffic and fear of teenagers, but we also have a direct impact on their property values, whether positive or negative.

Bickford, I think, might argue that conceiving of design and planning as a client/professional exchange is one of the root causes of the spatial inequality that she describes, because it allows the privileged (those who have money to be a design client) to make decisions that affect many others.

So if a client is "one who leans on another for protection," then who protects all the non-clients?


Eddie Alvarado said...

My initial thought and response is that Cities or Governments create ordinances to establish protection for the non-clients. However, the Architectural profession as I see it, has a responsibility to clients, non-clients, and citizens. As citizens or creators we also have the responsibility to embrace the 10% of good Architecture out there. The Trinity Churches, The Carpenter Centers, Baker House or the original BPL. As creators in Architecture we are also responsible for continuing development of materials and methods, studying the possibility of evolving typologies as the world and socities change.
As an aside, I don't necessarily believe certain types of Lawyers qualify as protectors or defendants for the less fortunate. As Architects, our duty extends beyond the client with the checkbook.

SMunger said...

I understand the concern for the legal analogy raised in my response to the post by Gus. And I understand the stereotypes about lawyers that run deeply ingrained in the pop-culture psyche.

What I attempted to bring up in my post had less to do with the specifics of law and lawyers, than to the similarities between the responsibilities that a client undertakes by hiring a lawyer, and those that a client should undertake by hiring an architect.

Like Herb, I too know schools, and much of the time, parties who are our client (paying the bills) are not necessarily the end users. This is true of most public work. It becomes our responsibility, to advocate, and inform our clients about the decisions that need to be made all the while thinking about the larger view.

Jaclyn said...

I do believe it is our responsibility as the architect to avoid placing negative impact on someone/something just to meet our clients’ desires. I know that the client is the one with the checkbook but we have a responsibility to inform them if something will be a negative impact. For example, with site planning, if the project were to reflect negatively on the community the board is going to deny the project, so as the architect we should attempt to persuade our client from early on in the project in order to utilize both time and money most efficiently.

I don't see how we as architects could feel good about a design if it were to produce a negative impact on one or more of the parties affected by the design. I think we should strive to have a positive impact on all parties but sometimes this can not be accomplished and we have to settle for knowing that at least the project did not have a negative impact on anyone.

Matt Anderle said...

In respect to client relations, is our role also a "client" to society? Eddie was touching on this notion but I think it goes further. We acquire our "client", and become a "client" on the same day.

In respect to community, society, and public interest, we work to produce architecture for the better interest of our client with the checkbook, and at the same time have the responsibility to present the best solution to the "public" and have the new project fit their environment as the "client" to society.

Amr Raafat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amr Raafat said...

The Laws protect those non-Clients !

Theoretically we can build just about whatever we want. In the 20th century what constrains architecture is law
Zoning regulations are a relatively recent invention;
governments have spent time and efforts regulating land use and Building Regulations,"which is good in the sence of protecting the non Clients"

But a concern of how building regulations may affect the freedom of Architects and their Goal to satisfy there Clients.

Architectural practice today is primarily a business-driven (as opposed to 'art-driven') activity with most architects burried under the regulations of laws, money matters, and conflicts between materials suppliers and building codes

I think Architects should focus on the Building's Neighborhood Success as well as the Building Economics Efficiency and success as that would result in the client's Satisfaction and Protection.

Scott Pfeifer said...

I see green building practices as a way of not only protecting your client monetarily but protecting the world and everyone. Looking after the earth is one way to look after all of its inhabitants. While I haven't been involved in a green building, I do what I can to ensure that I am making the smartest choices for the client and others. It is our obligation to serve our clients first and anyone/everyone else we can.

Angelo Logan said...

I happen to work in a "green" building. And there are many positive features associated with green design (i.e. sunlighting, waterless urinals, reusable water system, etc). "I also agree that as design professionals we should be responsible to protect our environment and to educate our clients. However, I have concerns with the LEED's rating system. I know that it is in place to provide an incentive, but why should our buildings get 'points' for incorporating design elements and materials that we should inherently be thinking about as architects?

annie said...

I have been studying to be LEED certified and agree with Angelo. We shouldn't need the point system. I think it seems to be more in place for those out there are not aware of green design and how it can be achieved. Many people still have the misconception that to be energy efficient it will have two foot thick walls made of straw and huge solar panels all over. It comes back to us to show different ways of making a building "green". The LEED system allows the client and the users to recognize the various aspects of the building that help our environment and put a point value to it. Recognizing a increase in energy efficiency in terms of one, two or three points is more tangible for someone that has not been educated in ways to be more energy efficient.

Kara Meissner said...

This is certainly an important question. Who protects the rest, the general public? Well I believe that the architect provides protection for the public as well.

I recall the news story on Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall; the motorists and nearby condo residents were experiencing discomfort from the glare of the exterior building material. Issues like these arise continually and while I do not believe it to be from an erroneous neglect for the well being of others, I believe it to be the fact that there are an enumerable amount of variables when you design. Solar patterns aside; there will always be a few that are not happy to embrace your design for many possible reasons, however I believe it to be in the architect’s hands to consider the responsibility to the neighborhood. Glare aside what would a building of highly reflective quality do to the heat island effect? It is clear that architects do owe the public a responsibly designed building the pleasure of providing this building is one I believe to be worth it.

Rick E said...

I have always believed that the architects responsibility extends to the final users any design. Schools must be designed to foster the education of the students, apartments must be designed for the comfort and safety of the tenants and so on. If it is a question of the primary client - the one with the checkbook - making requests which would adversely impact the end users, then ultimately the architect must become the advocate for those users and work towards a design that is in their best interests as well as that of the client.

Gus G.-Angulo said...

“Architecture is a social act and the material theater of human activity.”- Spiro Kostof
Following my comment on the “Me and the things I create” blog, I know, I don’t want to “work in Architecture”, but to use Architecture as a tool to achieve a primary goal: to serve!”

I might have the skills of the trade: the understanding of the rhythm, proportions, colors; the ability to provide quick and innovating ideas to the presented architectonic problem; I possess the skills to convey these ideas through exciting and dazzling images; but the knowledge I value the most in my professional career and my personal life, does not rest on any of previous mentioned premises, rather in the consciousness that the Architecture is an instrument to serve others!
I think this is the key to really understand the point that Herb makes when he recalls Bickford ideas, I think we are serving a community as a whole (one client at the time) thru a medium (work) with a great product (Architecture) we can really make our contribution to a better place an create “opportunity” (I still do not like the term equality…….just seams to “forgiving” ……taking away responsibility from some…..)
I wan to mention to of the most important events in my life of designer / Architect:
IOnce in college, my eyes were opened to a new dimension of Architecture with a very simple statement tat came from a studio teacher (in a moment when I was having the difficulty to juxtapose the concepts of service to others and the extreme dedication that the Architecture requires), he told me: “Mr. Belloc, do not be confused, there is not real architecture if service to others is not the main purpose! We Architects, are the interpreters of the collective desires, we are here to serve!” That is the most transcendental idea I receive in School about this profession, and now is the catalyst by witch all the teachings about theories, methods of design and styles in Architecture make sense to me, when we do not deal with clients but perons: when it is for the service to others! It is only then when rhythm is not just “simple esthetics”, but an action intended to please others; when color is not just an “adjective” but a live feeling that communicates; when volume and composition are not just “cold skill” but the warmth enrichment of a persons life’s!

The second great influence was set the day my mother (an Architect herself) came into my room, the night before starting at the School of Architecture, crying profusely, she said, “….do not become an Architect! Do not be an Architect! She (my mother referring to Architecture) is the most beautiful of all professions, but if you do not give her all your time, effort and soul, she will turn her back on you and despise you!” I must to confess, at that time I was not receptive at all to my mother words, but certainly, those words have been haunting my professional life since then!

The real knowledge I hope to acquire with time (and specially at my time in the BAC), is that the only way to “tame her” is to make her the servant of others; not use her as a self indulgent utensil for individualistic reasons. Is only then, when I serve others through Architecture that I truly become his master and not her slave