Click here to listen to my full discussion with Rion Willard, from the Business of Architecture, about the ‘Business of Listening’, a topic I deeply believe in.
It is an area of architecture that I find more relevant and important than ever before, our conversation covers my approach to clients, being a teacher, setting up Studio B.A.D and how I see the role of architects in the 21st century.
Traditionally I feel architects have had a tendance to ‘know’ the solution right from the start but I believe we need to stand back, listen to what a project or client really needs and gaining the trust from the client. This in turn can give us permission as designers to be bold in our approach and our process, it also helps to get clients truly engaged with the process.
Our project at St Margaret’s church is a clear case when listening has been vital in unlocking the potential of the building and what it can offer the community. I think our clients on this project initially found it unnerving when we wanted to take time to listen, as they had expected their architects to come with a solution. We stood back and reflected on what we saw, not just with the physical building but also the community needs. By going through this process, the project has become richer. We were able to persuade the church to reopen the beautiful old church (previously condemned) and discover what the community really needed, since this exercise they have opened a café, a drop in area and second hand shop within the church. By not rushing the solution, this has given up the ability to go deep, aligning our design ideas with the business case of the client and giving solutions that work long term, our solutions for the church have future proofed an unidentified business stream for the church.
The piece around listening and communication is so important. As architects I feel we can’t be passive in all of this, we need to be thinking about the future and the impact our work will have, most importantly how we can have a positive influence. I believe we don’t have to always wait for the brief, we can communicate ideas out. For example, Studio BAD try to only work with existing buildings, pushing the idea of refurbishment and repurpose rather than new build, this stance has given potential clients alternative solutions that they might not have even thought of before.
By adopting this process of being a listener we are able to be influenced by cultural changes, it doesn’t always have to be about a physical change and designing a building, but as architects we can still have positive impact on our communities by working more in a curator role. Working on feasibilities can unlock potentials of buildings and businesses, I feel as a practice we can bring together people from different backgrounds to creating a richer discussion.
The importance of listening is not just relevant in the private sector, it is also critical to my teaching work. I have to really listen to students, learn who they are as people, their background, what interests them. By really listening I start to know what can unlock their potential, but one approach does not work for them all.
I can’t define what a career in architecture looks like now, I feel we should be more flexible on how we see ourselves, being more part of the conversation for positive change rather than just concentrating on the traditional architectural role. Students studying architecture now could go on to be an architect, or work for a developer, or be a developer, or set designer, architecture can be the bedrock for many other disciplines. By being more flexible on where an architectural degree can take you, I believe it takes the pressure off the need to complete all parts of the degree (which doesn’t suit all), helping to redefine what architecture is in the 21st century.