5 Ways to Communicate Your Killer Concept to Clients

A seemingly never-ending debate exists regarding the authority of architects to dictate design decisions to the wider public. Given that it is those people who will ultimately inhabit and live with the structures we create, what right do we have to tell them what’s good for them? Is our lengthy architectural education enough to negate their lay perspective, assuming they will trust in our professional judgment, specialist knowledge, and theoretical standpoints? Do we really know best?

Of course, the optimistic amongst us will be confident that our thorough education and subsequent years of professional experience puts architects in the best position possible to shape the built environment for the benefit of society as a whole. However, simply producing great designs is not enough; the clear communication of those designs is critical to winning the support of our clients, local residents, city councils, and the public at large.

Zaha Hadid’s recent loss of the 2020 Olympic Stadium commission in Tokyo is a notable example of what can happen if we fail to convince each and every one of these influential parties. On the flip side, the collaborative effort undertaken by James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro to realize the High Line goes to show how popular a project can become with the help of ongoing dialogue and input from the local community.

So, what can architects do to enhance their powers of persuasion? Here are five firms who utilize different mediums to communicate their ideas, sometimes to individual clients — and occasionally to a much larger audience.

5 Ways to Communicate Your Killer Concept to Clients

BIG’s diagrams for West 57th, the Meatpacking District, New York City

1. Diagrams by BIG

Bjarke Ingels has developed a sterling reputation as an architectural storyteller, and his firm is particularly well-known for its diagrams, which aim to promote clarity and remove pretension from the design process. A great example is the graphic sequence used to explain the pyramidal shape of the West 57th apartment building in Manhattan.

By now, you will no doubt have seen at least one of the studio’s step-by-step model manipulations. The simple, Sketchup-style renderings are easy to understand, giving clients and the wider public a clear idea of BIG’s project development. While they can sometimes appear formulaic, the diagrams have caught on as an accessible communication device, and dozens of firms have adopted the medium.

5 Ways to Communicate Your Killer Concept to Clients

Richard Meier Model Museum, courtesy Richard Meier and Partners.

2. Models by Richard Meier and Partners

We recently reported on the power of models to bring design concepts to life, as Allied Works Architecture prepare to display theirs for all to see in a major new exhibition in Denver. Another firm to harness three dimensions more than most is Richard Meier and Partners, which now has an entire museum dedicated to models of some of its most famous creations, including detailed renditions of the iconic Neugebauer Residence and Smith House.

By allowing people to get up close and personal to these finely crafted works of timber veneer, Meier gives everyone a chance to get under the proverbial skin of each project, and it is safe to say that the clients are much more swiftly convinced of an architect’s intentions when they lay their eyes on these miniature masterpieces.

3. Visualizations by Squint/Opera

They aren’t architects themselves, but they have quickly become indispensable to major firms around the globe with their brand of unique and often breathtaking animations of the buildings we envision. Squint/Opera’s team of digital artists create quirky architectural trailers and stills that have that rare ability to make clients smile, a fact that has spawned great success: people buy into big ideas much more easily when they are enjoying themselves!

The principle is encapsulated by the Squint/Opera’s tagline: “Great Stories Told Well.” Firms that have benefited from the studio’s animated box of tricks include the aforementioned BIG, designers of the utopian Europa City on the outskirts of Paris, and international players AECOM, which tapped Squint/Opera to bring its Rio 2016 Olympic Park masterplan to life.

4. Presentations by Heatherwick Studio

Sure, not every architect is going to rise to such prominence that they can book themselves a slot on the prestigious TED stage, but Thomas Heatherwick’s talk illustrates the potential for multimedia presentations to help tell stories and communicate our ideas to both clients and the wider world. The list of TED speakers from the architectural world is quite something: Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, and Architizer’s own Marc Kushner of HWKN have all taken to the platform in recent years.

The scale of event matters not, though: even in a meeting with developers or the board at your local town hall, these same communication skills can help support your designs. By talking with passion and enthusiasm about your project, you can show genuine belief in what you are proposing. Clients appreciate a candid pitch, and a dash of humor also goes a long way!

Heatherwick Studio

Via the “Life of an Architect” Facebook page.

5. Social Media by Malone Maxwell Borson Architects

Most architects still use Facebook and Twitter to broadcast factual news about their firms. That’s just fine, but Bob Borson of “Life of an Architect” fame has shown that we can do so much more to communicate our working process to clients and a wider audience.

Circa multiple online platforms, Bob paints a detailed picture of studio life, offering thoughts on everything from conceptual sketching techniques to real-world design details. Critic Alexandra Lange nailed it in her article on Dezeen last year, proclaiming: “Social media can do more for architecture than showcase pretty faces and soundbites. Architects need to start thinking of social media as the first draft of history.”

Top image: London 2012 Olympic Park by Squint/Opera.

6 Ways the Web Can Help Empower Architects

6 Ways the Web Can Help Empower Architects (3)

It is almost a quarter of a century since the first ever website was published by Tim Berners-Lee, the architect of the World Wide Web. Since then, the internet has become almost as integral to our everyday lives as the air we breathe. It is vital to almost every business on the planet, a key pillar of our collective workflow, and used for everything from communication and coordination to marketing and management (in between watching videos of cats, obviously).

The Web is ubiquitous, and architects know this better than anyone. The question is: are we harnessing its full potential? We can now make the internet work for us more powerfully than ever, and the overriding goals are grouped into five broad categories:

  • Self promotion
  • In-house efficiency
  • Research and resources
  • Transparency and trust
  • Education and inspiration

Using these key points as the benchmark, we look at six simple ways the internet can help empower architects in the modern digital age.

6 Ways the Web Can Help Empower Architects

Via Instagram

1. Sell yourself – Viral marketing

Good for: Self promotion; Transparency and trust; Education and Inspiration.

Over the past decade, social media has become synonymous with online promotion, and there is a myriad of ways an architectural firm can use the various platforms to leverage their portfolio and communicate their design ethos to the wider world. Facebook and Twitter have proven to be valuable platforms, both for modest firms such as Studio MM (for whom architect Marica McKeel tweets sketches) all the way up to the goliaths of the profession such as Herzog and de Meuron, owners of a Facebook page with over 186,000 followers.

Bjarke Ingels of BIG is perhaps the best-known architect currently harnessing social media to increase his studio’s reach. A personal Instagram account boasting some 75,000 followers indicates the public truly cares about what the Danish architect has to share, whether it is a work-in-progress shot of Hualien Residences … or his most recent skiing vacation.

6 Ways the Web Can Help Empower Architects

Tokyo National Stadium by ZHA

2. Make your viewpoint heard – Public relations

Good for: Transparency and trust.

The built environment has always been entwined with politics and ethics, but the Internet has made it far easier for architects to share their perspectives on the more thorny issues relating to practice. The more we communicate our opinions and communicate the reasoning behind both our designs and our business decisions, the more the public will understand and trust the profession.

One firm flexing its PR muscles more than most in recent weeks is Zaha Hadid Architects, adopting a mixture of online mediums to defend their design for the Tokyo National Stadium. While the firm’s vociferous protestations have garnered a mixed response from both critics and the general public, it is undeniably refreshing to see a firm being transparent about its processes and encouraging open debate about architecture as a whole.

6 Ways the Web Can Help Empower Architects

Via Forbes

3. Work like a well-oiled machine – Studio communications

Good for: Research and resources; In-house efficiency.

According to The Verge, “Slack is killing email.” If you are an architect and you haven’t yet considered the web’s hottest app for team communications, chances are you will soon. Slack — together with other online tools designed to improve coordination and efficiency across a host of sectors — has the capability to transform the way firms operate day to day and make it more fun in the process.

One such firm to have picked up the “Slack” for their in-house communications is Dash Marshall LLC, designers of “An Apartment for Space-Age Lovers.” Avollio outlined 10 reasons Slack is ideal for improving an architecture studio’s workflow, including the ability to create individual channels for each project in the office, the capacity to share large drawing files, and the ease with which you can synchronize all manner of calendars, schedules, and project timelines.

6 Ways the Web Can Help Empower Architects

Studio Gang’s Aqua Tower, with product spec sheet on the left

4. Perfect your products – Specification tools

Good for: Research and resources; In-house efficiency; Education and inspiration.

Online tools for specifying building components have been around for many years, but few have allowed architects to visualize the quality of materials, detailing, and finish of each individual element in built form. Thanks to the internet, that is now changing as image-driven databases such as Architizer’s Product Catalog link brands with the buildings they are a part of.

A great example of this web-based synthesis is the marriage between Steven Holl Architects and specialist glass manufacturer Bendheim, culminating in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. With spec sheets and high-res photos just a click away, architects can now specify with much greater confidence, as well as having a convenient single point of contact for a wide array of manufacturers as they compile their detailed drawing packages.

6 Ways the Web Can Help Empower Architects

One World Trade Center by SOM, designed using BIM

5. Collaborate like a pro – Building information modeling

Good for: In-house efficiency.

This will be nothing new to most firms: BIM has irrevocably altered the landscape of architectural practice, particularly since Autodesk consolidated and streamlined Revit back in 2013. The ability for architects, engineers, contractors, and other parties to share a single, intelligent project model is fast becoming the industry standard. In fact, the use of BIM will be mandatory for all UK public projects as of next year.

More recently, cloud-based applications have increased the power of BIM beyond recognition: architects are now able to access data on energy performance as the model develops using software such asSefaira. Major firms leading the way include Skidmore Owings and Merrill, which utilized BIM from the conception to the completion of One World Trade Center in New York.

6 Ways the Web Can Help Empower Architects

National Tourist Route Trollstigen by Reiulf Ramstad Architects

6. Tell the world – Articles and interviews

Good for: Self promotion; Transparency and trust; Education and inspiration.

Linking back to the opening point, increasing communication with the public and maximizing transparency across the profession only helps to breed confidence in architects and their value to society. Another way the Web has enhanced our capability to reach out to people is through online forums like Architizer. One such example is Reiulf Ramstad, who gave an in-depth interview that reflected on his design ethos and told the stories behind buildings such as University College Østfold and National Tourist Route Trollstigen.

It is important to remember that architectural journalism need not be left to journalists; architects themselves can provide extraordinary insight into the profession and might just win over a few critics along the way. So get writing, get talking, and, most importantly of all, get sharing: the online world is your oyster …

Architects Versus Engineers: A Rallying Cry to the Profession

Finally, you are an architect. You studied day and night for 5 to 8 years, giving blood, sweat and tears (sometimes literally) in order to kick-start your dream career. It’s been a long road, but you have made it through the good, the bad and the tortuous times – standing in your cap and gown at graduation, you are the proudest you have ever been. It’s been more than tough, but at least you can now relax a little, knowing you have earned the right to be part of a respected, reliable profession that will protect your status and offer continual work over the coming decade. Or will it?

In the Philippines, it appears things are not so simple. A soon-to-be architect there – who wishes not to be named for – has given an insight into a local struggle for power between architects, civil engineers and the political system, with architects falling victim to out-dated legislation passed just after the Second World War. He states:

“In our country, civil engineers can sign architectural drawings (for residential mostly), a complete bulls***. Are you aware of this?

This “trend” started after the Second World War, when there was a lack of architects in our country. To compensate for the need, civil engineers were allowed to sign architectural documents. Sadly, it still continues long after the war, until today.

I am still an architecture student, and the future is not good for us architects with other professions grabbing the opportunity that’s supposed to be ours. It really hurts to see a civil engineer in the space intended for architects.”

A Rallying Cry to the Profession

The source provided this photograph of an architectural drawing signed off by the engineer as evidence to support their claims

But, surely there are laws to protect those in the profession? Indeed: the unnamed source knows which regulation should apply, but it seems the government have been turning a blind eye for many decades:

“It’s clearly a violation of the law (RA 9266 — Architecture Law in the Philippines), but it is continuing. The law has no teeth. I just wonder if this problem also occurs in other countries?”

This source’s viewpoint is concerning, but is it an isolated case? Turns out the answer is no, as another source messaged me personally with the following distress signal:

This is our problem: Civil Engineers, who by profession design bridges and roads, also practice architecture. They are commonly hired and commissioned to do medium-end residential and commercial buildings because of their ‘cheap’ professional fees. In fact, they already passed a law allowing them to sign and seal architectural documents.”

And behold, yet another user vented their frustration right on The Angry Architect Facebook Page:

“Here in Philippines, civil engineers kind of took over the role of architects, and the worst thing is they and the people don’t think it’s wrong.”

So, it appears the issue is widespread, and the disquiet amongst Philippine architects is not limited to lone beacons of angst. Are the assumptions about civil engineers being unfit to design architectural projects unfair? Are these comments a reflection of the arrogance and self-entitlement perceived by many outside of our profession? I would argue that the discontentment is well founded – but we must examine why, and seek ways in which to resolve the situation within discrediting others in the construction industry.

A Rallying Cry to the Profession

Via: Archylounge

In the UK, an architect is not technically required to design a building – as long as a structure passes the planning application process and complies with building regulations, it can go ahead. The key here for architects is to make clients aware of the added value an architect can bring to their project – we must make our case convincingly, so that clients choose us and understand the great benefits of doing so.

By creating a building with a well functioning layout, considered specifications and beautiful detailing, the overall value of the finished product should comfortably outweigh the cost of architects’ fees. Further to this, an architect’s input can result in more robust buildings that require less maintenance, and energy-efficient designs that reduce running costs over the lifetime of the building – these are areas where an architect’s worth becomes clear in the long-term, making us better value than those Philippine civil engineers, even with their “cheap professional fees”.

Of course, could be argued that many of these aspects – quality detailing, robust structures, and energy efficiency, for example – can be produced to a high standard by engineers in the digital age, thanks to the power of BIM. Final year architecture student, long-time Angry Architect follower and astute commentator Xander Van Helden spoke to the subject on a recent facebook post, with a well-worded and fairly derisory view on what he calls “commercialist architecture”:

“Civil engineers can indeed design building, but they tend to think rationally, in figures and fixed budgets. Any BIM-oriented tool, in the right hands of engineer, becomes a tool for “generation with standardized elements”. The result of this is a simplification of the role of architect as an independent designer. I doubt it should be called architecture.”

A Rallying Cry to the Profession

Another Philippine user sent in this image of a civil engineer’s online portfolio on social media, in which they refer to themselves as “designer” – not “architect” in the legal sense, but nonetheless explicitly claiming authorship of the entire work. It raises the question, what place do architects have in the Philippines?

Significantly, Van Helden also points out the fact that commercial clients’ decision to use engineers over architects does not achieve the one thing they want more than anything else – to reduce costs. Unless a very experienced (and more expensive) contractor is used for such projects, the absence of an architect to oversee the work, manage the design, communicate with consultants and the construction team, and keep a handle on quality control can lead to a higher final bill. Van Helden notes:

“We may say that it is right as it saves money, it makes things easier for contractors; but at the same time the progress seems to be less evident.Any progressive thinking in architecture like Parametricism struggles to get through that ‘comfort zone’, remaining expensive and complex to be built without significant attention and development from contractors.”

In conclusion, as a profession we must recognize that we are selling a service that is not necessarily so tangible to those outside of the industry, or to less design-conscious members of the public. The profession is no longer protected as it once was; we must fight to remain relevant and remind people of the qualities that the profession can bring to the built environment, and to their everyday lives.

It is up to us to communicate our value, so that those choosing to spend their increasingly tight budgets do not see architects as a luxury, but as an essential component of their project: not only are we creative, we are also dependable, organized, efficient, communicative, competent, innovative and, most of all, professional. All of these things combined make us great value, in every sense of the word. We are worth it.

Let’s get that message across, in the Philippines and across the globe.

Yours through thick and thin,

The Angry Architect