Every month a group of international architects and designers converge on the internet to write about a single topic and publish from their own individual point of view. This is Architalks.



Used under creative commons license: Advice – Laughlin Elkind via

Advice for Clients:

I’ll be honest, it took me a minute to figure out what direction I wanted this post to take. As a small business owner the success or failure of my company is entirely dependent upon my personal and profession reputation as well as my clients. With the totality of your livelihood resting squarely on such a precarious edge it is no small thing to consider the advice that should be handed out. So, as I prepared for this post I had to ask myself what is the most critical thing I could offer my clients and potential clients that would add real weight to the decision of whether or not to use an architect? And there are so many answers! Many of which we’ve talked about on this blog before – good design, well detailed drawings, professional oversight, even budgeting. But there is one component, one thing that architects offer that is crucial to the success of any project, and it is something that all clients must participate in:


Merriam Webster defines communication in two ways that I find fascinating: a) a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs or behavior; and b) personal rapport. In terms of the Architect/Client relationship these two definitions offer the greatest window into the paramount importance of good communication. Let’s look a little closer.

First, communication is a process. This is important to understand because any process is going to have a cause and effect, a give and take, where at least two parties are interacting with each other in order to achieve a desired result – in this case a building design. In order to be an active participant in that process you, the client, have to engage honestly and consistently with your architect from the very beginning of a project and even beyond the design process through construction. Because unless you are actively engaging with your architect, offering input and consistently seeking to understand what the ultimate intended result is for your project, you will miss out on some detail that is not translated well and the success of your project will suffer.

Second, communication is an exchange. There is an active and participatory sharing between architect and client. Without a constant exchange during the process it is impossible for your architect to know how to best serve your needs. As an example, I have a client that I have worked with before and we are designing a new project, a detached addition to their home. The exterior is important in that it must closely match the style and materials of the existing home, and the interior is important in that it must closely fit with the clients’ intended use, personality and style. We went through an initial design sketch based on input from the client and produced a model and some interior renderings. The overall aesthetic was very modern, very NYC industrial loft. This was in keeping with some initial comments that we picked up on during our early conversations about the project and at presentation the clients were receptive and seemed excited about the direction we took. However, like we do with all our clients, I left some hard copies of the materials with them and asked that they look over them a few more times and make sure nothing was missed. Had I not done that, had I just pushed forward with their initial reactions I would have missed some key pieces that they came back with about 10 days later which was a fairly substantial redesign and modification to the total scope of work. But because they were honest and engaged in the process we are now able to make those adjustments and produce a design that is far closer to their overall goals for the project.

Next, that exchange happens through a common system of symbols, signs and behavior. This is an area where every architect is going to be a little different, but generally we, architects, communicate through some sort of visual form – drawings, sketches, images, material samples, etc. The key for you, the client, is to help your architect to know the best way to communicate ideas so that you will clearly and accurately understand them. And this does not necessarily have to be in a visual form, though that may be the easiest to understand. At the end of the day it’s about making sure everyone is on the same page.

Lastly, communication is about personal rapport. And to be honest, I had to look up rapport. Intellectually I understand what it means, a working relationship between two people, but I wanted to be specific for this post. Rapport is a friendly, harmonious relationship. Or, a relationship characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communication possible or easy. Without good rapport between client and architect communication will not be easy and in some unfortunate instances not possible at all. And that is not in anyone’s best interest.

At the end of the day, communication is the single most important key ingredient that your architect brings to the table. You could say we specialize in communication – the ability to take in all of your wants, needs and desires, and filter through all the magazine clippings, Houzz images and Pinterest pins, advice from your mother-in-law and the guy down the street who thought about building a house once but never quite got around to it to create a design that is unique to your family. Then your architect will continue to use those skills in communication to work with contractors, subs, material suppliers and installers to organize and conduct the vastly complicated process of construction in order to bring all your wants, needs and desires to reality in the form of your new home. But if you, the client, aren’t participating in this process of communication, it’s all for naught. So, please, have a seat. And lets talk.

For more words of wisdom and advice for clients, check out the other Architalks bloggers below:

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
ArchiTalks: Advice for Working with an Architect

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Advice for ALL Clients

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
advice to clients

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
ArchiTalks: Advice for Clients

Collier Ward – One More Story (@BuildingContent)
Trust Your Architect

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Advice List — From K thru Architect

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
advice for clients

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
A Few Reminders

Jonathan Brown – Proto-Architecture (@mondo_tiki_man)
Your Architect is your Advocate

Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)
[tattoos] and [architecture]

Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia)
Changing the World

Drew Paul Bell – Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Advice for Clients

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Questions to Ask an Architect in an Interview: Advice for Clients

Samantha R. Markham – The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
Dear Client,

Kyu Young Kim – J&K Atelier (@sokokyu)
Advice for Clients

Nisha Kandiah – ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
Advice for clients

Rusty Long – Rusty Long, Architect (@rustylong)
Advice for Clients

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Advice 4 Building

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Advice for Clients

Gabriela Baierle-Atwood – Gabriela Baierle-Atwood (@gabrielabaierle)
What I wish clients knew


Lisa Saldivar