#ArchiTalks #26 #Communication

This post is part of the ArchiTalks series where a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. The Topic ‘Leader’ for this post ‘Communication’ is Brian Paletz:

This is probably the biggest hurdle that needs to be overcome between Architect, Client & Contractor. Communication.

Why is Communication such a problem? It all depends on how each person and profession thinks:

Generally Clients will talk in terms of words where they describe dreams, aspirations, aesthetics in these terms. With the advent of web sites such as House and Pinterest; clients can also now give examples of the things they like (and dislike) with reference to pictures.

Architects think in terms of drawings and built realities. The problem therefore is that architects have to convert the words and pictures the clients are speaking of into drawings and construction that is (and here’s the really important bit) – specific to the design in question. Why do I say ‘specific to the design in question’? I often think that sometimes being an architect is a little bit like being a hairdresser – you can get someone coming with a photo of the latest haircut, requesting something similar but with hair (and probably a head) that is entirely unsuitable. Bear in mind that what you see in a photo may not be entirely suitable for your specific project. The job therefore of the architect is to communicate with the client to get to the root of the specific ‘look’, ‘aspiration’ and ‘feel’ of the words and/or photograph and then translate that communication into drawings and reality.

So you’ve communicated with the client, produced a beautiful design. All that needs to happen now is to communicate the design intent into the detail and construction drawings to the contractor. This level of communication requires firstly that the architect produces clear and detailed drawings that go from the general arrangement down to the specific detail. And secondly it requires that the builder is sufficiently trained to understand drawings and have the skills and experience in converting the drawings into construction. This last step can be difficult and can be especially fraught in Ireland where there is a culture of ‘well we’ve always done it that way.’

These are the communication aspects that the general public probably knows that the architect normally undertakes. What they might not realise is that the architect is also responsible for another key piece of communication that is critical to the success of your project – The Building Contract:

The architect is key to the agreement between the client and the contractor and has an in-depth understanding of the specific contract that is used on your project.

The Building Contract that is used will depend on the scope, scale and procurement of the project and it is generally completed by the architect but it is formed between the client & the contractor. The architect is not party to the contract (although he/she may be referred to) and the role of the architect is to be unbiased administrator of the contract who is equally between the client and the contractor. This is an important change in the architect’s role where up to this point the architect has been entirely on the client’s side.

The RIAI in Ireland and the RIBA in the UK have standard versions that can be used; for our domestic work we prefer the ‘Plain English’ version that keeps the communication nice and straightforward. The key parts of the contract are therefore:

• The contract sum
• The start date
• The finish date
• Liquidated damages (the damages to be paid if the building is not finished on time (taking account acceptable time extensions/delays)
• The Retention percentage (the amount to be retained on each payment) where 50% is retained until Practical Completion and the other 50% paid on completion of the…
• Defects Liability Period (the amount of months the contractor is liable to fix any snags – generally this is 6-12 and should ideally cover a winter)

There will also be clauses on insurance, payment times…

So I hope you’ve been noting how many times communicate and communication have been italicised through this post. Needless to say – communication is key on all sides in ensuring the success of your project.

Comments as always welcome.

Below are posts from the other ArchiTalks architects on how they have interpreted this theme:

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Architalks #36: Project Amplify

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Tips for Communicating with Your Architect, Interior Designer, or Landscape Architect

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Communication in a Yada Yada World