There’s no doubting the most important aspect of a successful building or design project is communication, but a number of recent reports have shown that ineffective communication with clients, and each other, is plaguing the architectural world.

During his keynote speech at the American Institute of Architects’ convention earlier this year Dutch “Starchitect”, Rem Koolhaas, said that architecture’s silo mentality and ingrained distrust of knowledge sharing is holding the field back.

“Architecture has a serious problem today in that people who are not alike don’t communicate,” Koolhaas said, according to a transcript published by US magazine Fast Company website.“I’m actually more interested in communicating with people I disagree with than people I agree with.

“If you want to be relevant, you need to be open to an enormous multiplicity of values, interpretations, and readings.”

Similarly, finding common ground with clients is essential to architectural outcomes, and while many architects excel in collaborating with their clients, a study undertaken by the

Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) in 2015, showed that many project owners were feeling misunderstood by their architects.

“Inefficient, inaccurate, late, clumsy, badly managed and poorly communicated processes can chip away at the value of a project. They fray relationships in an already stressful, resource-constrained environment,” the report states.

“Clients expect you to listen to their reasons for building, understand them, and thereafter accord them due respect for the duration of the project.”

To better meet these expectations, Paul Chandler, executive vice-president of Skanska UK, advises that architects should take time to better understand their client’s needs.

“Understand who your client is and what their key drivers are because it will be different in different circumstances. Understand where he needs to be more efficient,” he stated in the RIBA report.

“When you do that, the chances of working successfully in a collaborative fashion increase tenfold and we all come out of it with a much better result.”

So what steps can architects and designers take to share their knowledge and better understand the needs of their clients?

In a recent review of communication studies focusing on the architect-client relationship, Nima Norouzi et al, reports that the majority of problems arising during the design and building process result from an assumption of knowledge, leading to misunderstandings.

“The most common complaints from clients who have used architectural services are related to misunderstandings and dissatisfaction,” the review states.

“Even though the client is pivotal in the design process they often do not understand design processes and are unaware of what information they need to pass on to the design team.

“Challenges can arise when the participants in a conversation are not aware of what implicit knowledge they should divulge to the other party. To overcome these difficulties, the parties involved in the conversation should maintain a cooperative attitude and avoid assuming that they understand what the other party is trying to say.”

And according to Shelley Little, from Freshome, in her article Why a Class in Communications is a Must for Architects this often means using communication tools beyond verbal and written tactics.

“Believe it or not, communicating successfully is not all about words. Sometimes the most powerful way to get your point across to someone is by using no words at all. Successful communicators use several tricks or methods to engage their audience,” she writes.

“The path to effective communication can be fraught with barriers, and the best way to communicate is sometimes situation-based, requiring you to have many different methods of communicating. Are your words powerful enough or do you need to use pictures, models, drawings, and images in order to get your point across?”

Tips, tricks and tools aside, being generous with your knowledge and building a culture of mutual respect is the key to maintaining positive client relationships according to Executive Chairman and founder of Hames Sharley, William ‘Bill’ Hames.

“If you’re a strategic partner you can add value to a project far beyond the client’s aesthetic or functional needs – as strategic partners we bring research, technology and 40 years of industry knowledge to projects, we lead rather than follow,” Bill said.

“That’s what being a good strategic partner is all about, valuing someone else’s needs as equally as your own and collectively delivering a solution that excels.”

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