The Architecture of Listening
There is one notion of an architect’s client as a patron of the arts, enabling an artist to perform his or her magic and then present the design to the owner like a gift to be unwrapped with much fanfare. Polar opposite to that approach is design-by-committee with the architect assuming the role of scribe or negotiator. The practice of residential architecture usually falls somewhere between these two extremes. Our clients come to us for our expertise and our art, but our best work results when we are able to engage them in the design dynamic.
Our residential clients have an obvious emotional investment in the end product and, as such, we see them as collaborators. Architects have to synthesize into a harmonious whole a myriad of factors including the site, the climate, the context and, the budget. These factors are further filtered through a program of needs and wants presented to us by our clients. The architect brings experience, creativity and specific problem solving skills to the process and just as importantly, a capacity for listening.
Architects have a responsibility not only to listen, but also to honestly consider design preferences put before us. If a client is attracted to a specific architectural language or “style”, we try to discern with them which features, proportions, materials, sense of openness or enclosure, feelings of light, etc., are communicated to them by that language. We explore ways to distill and bring those features to life in a building that is a product of our time and place. Sometimes that can result in the use of traditional materials in a modern sense. It can also manifest as a vernacular shape or volume that is well tested in this climate, but can now breathe and perform like a modern machine.
The resulting design “aesthetic” is rarely deliberate and is often a surprise to both the architect and the client. Buckminster Fuller said, “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty… But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” A successful project produces an entity that has almost suggested itself, a sum of the influences and the voices speaking at the table. It is an architecture of listening.