Communicating with Architects

An architect is said to be a man who knows a very little about a great deal and keeps knowing less and less about more and more until he knows practically nothing about everything, whereas, on the other hand, an engineer is a man who knows a great deal about very little and who goes along knowing more and more about less and less until finally he knows practically everything about nothing. A contractor starts out knowing practically everything about everything, but ends up by knowing nothing about anything, due to his association with architects and engineers.

Or maybe you prefer this one.

A contractor, an engineer, and an architect were standing inside their recently completed building, looking out at the street. A VERY attractive woman walks by. The contractor whistles, the engineer says, “Did you see the legs on that woman?” The architect says, “Did I miss something, I was admiring my reflection”

Now that one’s funny!  If you know any architects, chances are you think these jokes are funny.  If you have ever worked with any architects….they’re not.

Why is it that architects have such a lousy reputation?  Probably because most of the deserve it.  WOW, did I just say that?  The truth is, most architects I know fail somewhere in their professional responsibilities.

Before you get the wrong idea of what I am talking about let me clarify.  I am not suggesting that ANY of the architects I know, including myself, create poor, inefficient or unsafe designs.  Sure, that happens, but it is quite rare and when it does, the profession polices itself and disciplinary action is taken.  Or with failures that don’t concern life safety or violation of statute the free market tends to clean up. The part of the profession where I think most architects fail is in communication.

On a given project the architect has to effectively communicate with owners, bankers, contractors, tradesman, engineers  and co-workers.  Each of these groups require a different type and level of language.  Terms readily understood by contractors and tradesman will be totally foreign to owners.  Technical jargon familiar to engineers will be lost on tradesman or CAD drafters.  Budget implications of a detail or a design means something totally different to an engineer than to a contractor than to an owner.  The peers of a banker are generally not the same as those of an engineer, or tradesman or a drafter.  Somehow, for a project to be successful, the gap between these different groups has to be spanned and it takes a pretty effective communicator to do that.  When they fail, it’s easy to perceive them as self-centered or incompetent.

Interestingly, in my educational experience, there was little discussion about learning how to effectively communicate between a broad spectrum of people, and as a result, most architects I know miss it somewhere.   Maybe they are really good at communicating with builders and engineers but can’t seem to connect with the contractor or maybe the owner.  Most architects would prefer to communicate visually, that’s why they became architects.  Le Corbusier summed it up when he said “I prefer drawing to talking…Drawings is faster and leaves less room for lies.”  But in the end, executing a great and beautiful building requires far more of an architect than their ability to draw or imagine.  They also have to know how to speak.

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