How to Talk to an Architect
And that’s a huge part of what makes each project so personal and unique.
How well you and your architect communicate will affect how closely the design meets your needs and how much “you” ends up in the final project; after all, it’s your house!
But you don’t need a master’s degree in architecture to have meaningful conversations with your architect; here are a couple of ways to make sure your message is getting through.
One Step At A Time
Home design moves through several phases; each one gets more detailed and “concrete” than the one before.
The earliest phases are conceptual and fuzzy on purpose; you’re looking at the whole project from 100,000 feet up. Don’t get into details yet – keep it “up in the air” as long as you can. Your Architect shouldn’t start on the next phase until you’ll comfortable with everything you’ve seen so far.
Study the relationships between spaces in the design before you let him move you to the more detailed preliminary design drawings. That way, you’ll both be quite literally on the same page.
Architects are really good at looking at 2D stuff and seeing 3D stuff. But you’re probably not – no surprise there, huh? In fact, architects are so used to looking at 2D and seeing 3D that sometimes we forget that the whole world doesn’t work that way.
The danger in looking only at “2D” drawings is that what you think you’re seeing might not be what your architect is really showing you. 3D drawings help you “get into” the project and feel the character of the spaces.
And that will get you and your architect closer to communicating on the same level.
So make sure you know what’s on the table by asking for the 3D stuff. Don’t agree to a design until you’ve seen enough of it to be certain you understand exactly what it looks and feels like, inside and out.
Just like you, your architect is struggling to find your common ground. And like you, he’ll sometimes fall into familiar patterns when communications get strained. For architects that sometimes means esoteric and arcane terminology (like “esoteric” and “arcane,” for example).
Stop your architect in his tracks when you don’t understand something. You’re not supposed to know what fenestration is, or where to find the entablature and you won’t offend your architect or embarrass yourself if you ask.
Your architect needs to know what you’re thinking; the dialog needs to be on your terms.
A couple of great books for learning the language of residential architecture are Sarah Susanka’s classic “The Not So Big House,” and Marianne Cusato’s “Get Your House Right.” Anyone thinking about a home building or remodeling project of any size should read both. And for a better understanding of the whole process, try Gerald Lee Morosco’s “How To Work With An Architect.”
I think I said this once before, but it’s worth saying again – it’s your house.
A Picture May Be Worth A Thousand Words, But A Thousand Pictures Are Even Better
Of course you expect your architect to make lots of cool drawings for you to look at, but sometimes you have to draw us a picture — or at least show us one. Better yet, show your architect LOTS of pictures.
It’s the easiest way to start him understanding what you like and don’t like and will help get your project off in the right direction.
Most large booksellers have racks of “home design” magazines of some sort – grab a pile of those and cut out images that appeal to you. Make a folder for each room – a “swipe file” – and add images as you work through the design process.
Even better, set up an account on Houzz.com and create an “ideabook” online. You’ll find a nearly endless portfolio of excellent ideas for your swipe file there that you and your architect can both contribute to and comment on.
On paper or online, sharing some visuals with your architect is a great way to make a connection.
Carved In Stone
Every conversation with your architect should be reduced to notes. So much information gets passed back and forth that it’s easy to lose track of decisions you’ve made, and ideas you want to explore further.
Meeting notes give you both the chance to see where you might have misunderstood each other and make corrections.
Typically, I type up meeting notes in Word within a few days of a meeting and email those to my client; they’ll add, delete, and change as they see fit and email the notes back. I’ll admit I’ve been surprised at times by how differently my client and I interpreted something; writing everything down is a great equalizer.
“He Said, She Said” Reprise
One more quick story – at the first official meeting with a new client, the wife was overflowing with ideas about their new house. Positively bursting at the seams with everything she’d been thinking about for years.
We were hitting it off, firing on all cylinders.
Hubby was quiet. Kept looking at his watch. Taking calls. Seemed more than a bit disinterested. Finally he got up from the conference table and put on his coat. His wife looked up at him, almost as if she’d expected this.
“Just make her happy” the husband said, “I’ve got a tee time.”
Lisa Ekanger Your Hometown Realtor!