What Makes a Good Client?

The most successful architecture is the result of a strong relationship based on mutual respect between the client and the architect.  Great clients make great architecture. So what makes a great client?  We believe four elements are essential.

Good Students
Just as the best architects are good students of client interests and objectives, so, too, should a client be a good student, of both design and process. We’re not suggesting that every client should undertake coursework in architecture, any more than we’d propose that all architects need an MBA.  But the most successful projects are the result of the architect and client learning about each other – together. The architect learns about the client’s operation and agenda.  The client learns about the architecture and design that will serve that agenda.  Then both can step back and step into one another’s shoes, putting the project and the process into perspective.

Vision and Goals
Vision underscored by a clear understanding of the overarching goals for a project – beyond its singular purpose – means not only a better design, but more timely and effective decisions about that design.  For example, the client who communicates that a new performing arts center should be a hometown magnet for the next generation of Las Vegans, makes an essential contribution to what will become the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.  The client’s vision also serves as a guiding principle for everything from exterior wall materials to provisions for community education facilities. And it helps the architect mind the client’s budget.  A structure meant to last for 40 or 50 years won’t necessarily require materials meant to last 200.

Curiosity and Questions
An inquisitive attitude promotes an exploration of options. It helps both client and architect think inside and outside the box.  Curiosity drives unique, and sometimes unexpected, solutions.  And questions about why we are making certain choicesand whether we could do something differently keeps us on our toes and encourages better design decisions.

Architecture is by its very nature a collaborative process.  Working with a client who views architecture merely as a commodity, expecting a finished product without making any input into its outcome is not the ideal. While some projects are undertaken this way, it’s far more preferable to enter an engagement in which both architect and client discuss goals, dreams, vision, and design options.  This kind of collaborative relationship peels back layers, reveals potential problems, unveils new expectations, and avoids change-orders and unnecessary budget wrinkles down the road.

In the end, the best client is a full partner, engaged in learning about the design process, defining an overarching vision, asking questions, and collaborating throughout.  When clients put forth this kind of effort, they achieve an architectural project that fulfills their ambitions and expectations, on time and on budget.

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