In order to design a successful residence, you need to develop a relationship with your client that goes beyond functionality based solely on needs. Yes, there will probably be bedrooms and bathrooms, a kitchen, some living areas, and sometimes the odd side room etc. but it’s important to understand how each client will want to use the spaces in order to give them what they want (which does not mean what they are asking for but I’ll save those stories for another day).
Part of my role as architect is to be an interpreter and translator – to listen to what the client is saying and then to digest, interpret, and re-issue that information back. The goal is to ultimately protect the client from themselves (another major role) and to scrape away all the nasty bits of conflicting thoughts and imagery they have been assembling into a clearer and more representative picture of what they are after. I also think that I am better at my job when I am able to get personal with my client along the way – it makes it easier to help them set priorities that will make the difference between a house that fits the way they will really use it instead of how they think they will use it.
Online dating is a good analogy when describing the beginning of the “client socialization” process . The person who likes sits at home watching TV probably understands when filling out his dating profile that telling people he’s a couch potato and watches 7 hours of TV daily, particularly reality game shows, isn’t going to attract the ladies. As a result, when they are filling out their profile, they might add that they like the rugged outdoors (they only like watching it on TV but they do like it).
I need to get to the difference between how a person actually is vs. how they see themselves vs. how they would like others to see them. Just because someone thinks they would like to entertain doesn’t mean that they actually will. They might even think that they would entertain more often if only they had a proper entertaining space – that this one thing is what has kept them from having fabulous parties.
To know what the difference between what a client wants instead of what they are asking for only really starts to happen after you peel back what is initially presented on the surface. You need to start learning about all the personal things in their lives that don’t really have anything to do with designing a house or architecture at all. You find out about their families, the crazy gay uncle, he snores, she likes her eggs with ketchup – that they hate each other as much as they love each other. We’ll go out to dinner, have them over for drinks, I’ll call them on the phone and ask about some event in their life – things that are inherently personal.
An interesting output of this personalization process is that the line defining “client” and “architect” (aka service provider) typically becomes blurred or removed altogether. I become very close with my clients and in most cases, develop meaningful and lasting friendships. As a result, when this happens, the client starts to see me as a social equal. Now it might be because they genuinely like me, or, possibly out of necessity because I know all the things about them that stay hidden from all but their closest confidants or their attorney.
On more than a few occasions, clients will share something, a secret of sorts, forgetting that my current station in life is extremely different from their own. These “secrets” have ranged from receiving stock tips on IPO’s (with an initial buy-in of $100,000), to advising me to the fact that buying three Mercedes SUV’s at one time, and paying for them in cash, will result in getting a really good price and then they aren’t that expensive.
Oh yeah? Mmm….that’s kind of stupid (but you can say that to your friends).