The Business of Architecture Must Be Empathetically Holistic
In the business of architecture, as in life, we strive for bigger, more impressive, and more innovative ideas as a matter of course. Is that always the real priority? Sometimes. But as I recently flew from one client to another, I began to think about a phrase that a police chief told me earlier that day: "It was really great of you to be here." Simple statement, but somehow it stuck with me as the essence of what it means to be an architect.
It made me wonder what “sticky” means in our industry. What are the things, or ideas, that really stick with a client, or with the design team? Is it the trade show presentation? Is it the latest evidence-based data that provides some proof of our worth? Or is it more about how much we care about the people we work with and work for, and the people who will one day inhabit the spaces we design? When I think about the client relationships that mean the most, it is genuine empathy, partnership, and a deep, shared mission that creates those unforgettable relationships. Our conversations based on the design ethos of healing, equity, and transformation of lives are what drive us toward positive change in our communities. The clients who talk about passion and partnership – and understand that we, too, care about those things – are ours for life, not for fashion or flash.
DLR Group design team. Photo by Cory Parris Photography.
Of course, all good relationships begin with intelligence gathering. What are the critical issues? Where did the winding road leading toward a new project begin? How will the client fund the project? Who are the decision makers and what makes each one tick? Through this initial investigation, a bond begins to form. Sometimes the client’s need presents itself as a practical problem, such as finding more space for an expanding population or improving work environments for more efficient operations. But typically, beneath that practical need for a consultant’s skill lies a deep-seeded desire to find that specific kind of expertise and a hardworking, honest partner.
Finding the critical success factors and pitfalls for your client is ultimately where skills and needs intertwine to design a solution that overcomes the challenges at hand. And this teamwork through the process is the foundation of a strong relationship for having arrived at this solution together.
Repetition is key. When I travel to clients from far away and return again and again over the course of a project, it reinforces the message that we care in a holistic kind of way. It's caring about the built environment, the wellness of the occupants, the client’s budget, the community story, and the individual stories of those with whom we interact. When we communicate beyond the transactional relationship of “services for hire,” which is most prevalent in the business world, we engage in the true business of architecture that cares deeply about the who and the why in the midst of the how and what we create.
Our Justice+Civic design studios focus on projects that elevate behavioral, environmental, and social betterment, with an emphasis on healing, equity, and transformation for the individual and community. Read how designing with empathy helps us achieve these aspirations.
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