Last edited 25 Sep 2020

Methods of communication for architects

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[edit] Introduction

The architectural historian Spiro Kostof siad: "The primary task of the architect, then as now, is to communicate what proposed buildings should be and look like".

However, architectural communication is a complex and varied subject. The techniques and content adopted will vary depending on what needs to be said, for what purpose, who to, and at what stage of a project.

[edit] History of architectural communication

In the Medieval period, buildings were developed by master masons and masons, who travelled from one project to the next, where they would use skills handed down through generations to construct buildings using tried and tested techniques. Not only was the need for communication limited compared today, there was secrecy surrounding the skills used.

'Architects' first began to emerge as a distinct discipline in Italy during the Renaissance period. Palladio, often regarded as the greatest and most prominent architect of the 16th century, based his career almost entirely upon the Vicenzan and Venetian nobles for whom he designed palaces and country estates. Architects such as Palladio were often attached to a court or to great patrons, and often submitted drawn designs to competitions as a means of winning contracts.

In Britain, with the influx of wealthy landowners in the 16th century under Henry VIII, architects began to be employed to design and build new homes and landmarks to express the wealth of these individuals. Communication of designs was on a close, personal relationship basis, with the architect responding to the demands of their client.

During the 20th century, the working environment of the architect became more public as organisations, municipalities and commercial companies became clients. As a result, architects were more active in communicating with customers, users, the local community and builders.

In modern building projects, the communicative environment involves daily phone calls, emails and collaborative working. The architect operates virtually within a design team, and with the client, project managers, constructors, suppliers and public authorities.

Information and communications technology (ICT) has radically changed the traditional role of the architect in terms of the potential for communicating their ideas. Traditional 'altars for architecture' – the large white drawing tables – have been almost entirely replaced by computers. Architects are becoming more adept at using 3D modelling and virtual reality to communicate their ideas, and this trend looks set to continue as technology develops.

The need for communication has increased, and the modes of communication are more diverse.

[edit] Modes of communication

In the early stages of a project, communications may be with the client, and the subjects may be very high level, but vague on detail. In the later stages, communications may be with suppliers and contractors, may have legal consequences and need to be extremely specific.

It is very important therefore, when deciding on the appropriate form of communication to consider:

  • What the purpose is. It is important not to overwhelm people with spurious information, or to duplicate information, which can lead to contradictions.
  • Who the audience is. Do they have expert knowledge or not, and what form of information is likely to be most useful to them.
  • When the communication should be sent. For example, a report for a client should be sent to them in advance of any decisions they are required to make, and perhaps timed to feed into a client meeting or decision-making process.
  • What the recipient is expected to do as a result of the communication. This should be made clear to them, otherwise they may not respond as required.

Traditional forms of communications might include:

As design projects have become more complex, technological developments have revolutionised the means by which architects can draw, model, test and communicate. Modern modes of design communication include:

BIM in particular is intended to ensure the right people get the right information at the right time so they are able to make effective decisions. Employer's Information Requirements (EIRs) set out from the client's perspective what information is required, the level of detail that is needed and when it is needed. See Building information modelling for more information.

Whatever forms of communication are used, it is important, particularly as projects progress and more people are involved, that they are formally recorded so that it is clear what has been said, to whom and when.

This can include:

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