Last edited 15 Sep 2015

Client & architect, developing the essential relationship

On 1 September 2015, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) published ‘Client & architect, developing the essential relationship’. The 44-page report was formally launched at the RIBA on 15 September.

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The report presents the findings of two-years analysis of the relationship between clients and architects undertaken under the then RIBA president Stephen Hodder’s RIBA for Clients initiative. More than 500 clients were consulted through a process of roundtable discussions and interviews intended to help architects improve the essential relationship between client and architect.

Hodder said, “Over the last two years the RIBA for Clients initiative has engaged with some 500 clients to provide members with researched insights into changing needs so that we can shape our services in support of better client outcomes. I hope the evidence-based insights of this project … will help members to target work more effectively, and improve the value we offer clients.”

The report suggests that whilst there are a great number of opportunities for architects, the profession must be better at adapting to clients’ needs and demonstrating how they add value.

The report presents its findings under four headings:

Championing the vision:

  • Clients are prepared to invest trust in those who can deliver a vision.
  • Clients see architects, in most cases, as the professional best placed to lead the vision.
  • Vision matters on projects of all scales across most sectors.
  • The perception of the value of vision can be fragile.
  • Clients are, in most cases, keen to see architects step forward to lead the vision.
  • BIM offers a fresh opportunity for architect(s) to re-establish their role leading the vision.
  • Architects need to be business savvy, demonstrating an awareness of how to deliver value.

Listening and understanding:

  • Clients think architects who listen and understand properly are rare.
  • Architects must understand better how a building translates into real returns for the client.
  • Clients build for a blend of motivations, and these must all be appreciated.
  • Knowing a client’s needs better means architects can trade benefits to optimise overall value.
  • Better listening and understanding greatly improves collaboration and project outcomes.
  • Architects have a role in reassuring clients who fear losses more than they cherish gains.
  • Architects who listen and understand are better placed to challenge the brief.
  • Good communication skills breed trust, reduce perceived risk, and boost repeat business.
  • Different clients need to be listened to differently.

Engaging with people:

  • Many architects lack the people skills needed for collaborative working.
  • Good people skills boost your reputation, helping you to win work and repeat business.
  • Some architects need a cultural shift to adjust to flat management structures.
  • Good communication involves keeping the client ahead of the game.
  • In highly fragmented sectors even greater attention must be paid to good people skills.
  • Good people skills and communication mean clients have to do less and worry less.

Delivering technical content:

  • Disruptive technologies and processes are forcing architects to adapt.
  • Clients say it is hard to find practices good at both concept and technical work.
  • Despite wishing otherwise, clients think it necessary to replace concept architects with a ‘safer pair of hands’ after Stage 3.
  • Clients want architects to maintain their interest all the way through the delivery phase and beyond.
  • Many clients adopting BIM want architects to lead the integrated consultant team.
  • Clients want architects to place greater emphasis on how the building operates in use.

Learning and improving:

Chartered Institute of Buildings (CIOB) chief executive, Chris Blythe said, ‘We know that what motivates so many people who choose the built environment as a career is the legacy it leaves – to be able to say with pride to family, friends and acquaintances: ‘I built that’…. This document will, I am sure, help point us in the right direction and serve as an excellent starting point.’.