Designer as Listener
Years ago (more than I care to count), as an emerging professional, I attended a lecture by a well-known designer of civic and community buildings. He spoke about driving the design process toward a moment where the client stakeholders would demand that he lead them with his expertise. He did this by asking questions: “What do you want in this design? How should it work? What should it look like?” He kept asking, again and again until the client group finally demanded, “we don’t know, you’re the expert here, you tell us!”
As a young architect eager to become a respected designer, I thought that this lecturer’s tactic of questioning stakeholders to frustration was odd and risky. But the real point of the lecture was about the process of earning a client’s confidence. And that point stuck with me.
So much of how I approach working with a client stems from that point. I ask questions because it gives me the opportunity to listen, and to understand – which lets my clients have time to express their needs, and pick the moment to invite me to move from the outsider position of hired professional to an insider position of trusted advisor. That type of relationship is the best foundation for a project’s success.
That’s why my peers and I at DLR Group ask questions first, to hear from the people to whom the building we're designing will matter most. That might mean owners, managers, users, visitors, community members, or others - the stakeholders vary from project to project, but our desire to listen is always there. (Like Don Barnum, Greg Garlock and Gretchen Wahab below, taking the opportunity to ask questions of the USC Athletics Administration during our design of Heritage Hall. The trust established with this client later led to the design of the USC tennis facility and upcoming LA Coliseum renovations.)