Things they don’t teach at Architecture School~No.2: Don’t be too helpful

Things they don’t teach at Architecture School~No.2: Don’t be too helpful

Actually this was advice was said at college (by the great John Cave at Oxford Brookes) but it’s only after years in practice that you realise why the advice is essential and what it actually means.

So what does it actually mean? And surely architects should be helpful?

The problem is that architects by their very nature as problem-solvers want to to be helpful and it’s this very helpfulness that causes all the problems.

There’s a lot of debate currently in Ireland regarding the registration of architects (The recent Building Control act has only made the title of “Architect” a legally defined profession; much of the debate centres around ‘non-architects’ extolling the opinion that those that are practising effectively as architects are everybit as professional as those that are qualified and registered; and that architects are equally able to create poor designs and make mistakes.

Well, I’m not going to argue that architects never make mistakes and that I have never made a mistake; but what I will say is that 99% of the mistakes I have made (and thankfully they are only a few) are when I have been too helpful.

I’m not going into detail concerning these very few and infrequent errors as they’d be too painful to recount but the general jist of them is that rather than suggesting the best course of action (even though it may cost the client considerably more money), the architect will want to be ‘overly helfpul’ and take another course that in the long run will cause problems.

The problem with this ‘overly helpful’ course may often beyond mean that you are providing services beyond your qualifications, experience and more importantly your insurance. It probably seems at the time very easy for take on tasks that have been requested but the most important thing to ask yourself (and equally the client should ask before asking his/her architect) is: “Is my architect/am I adequately qualified to do this job” and if the answer is no then you should find someone who is. The easiest “high-street” analogy to give is that you wouldn’t take a loaf of bread to a butcher for him to slice on the meat slicer.

So if you ever hear me say that we need someone else on the design team to provide essential services (and these would include structural engineers, site analysis consultants, archaeologists, higher qualified conservation experts in a not exhaustive list) and that I cannot help you within my normal terms of service then it’s not that I’m being overly unhelful, it’s that I thinking of the best interests of the client and the project.

That’s all, comments as always welcome – No. 3 to follow soon…

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