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Last edited 12 Oct 2016
Methods of communication for architects
Architectural communication is a complex and varied subject. The techniques adopted for communicating and content of communications will vary depending on what is being communicated, for what purpose, who to, and at what stage of a project.
The architectural historian Spiro Kostof stated: 'The primary task of the architect, then as now, is to communicate what proposed buildings should be and look like'.
 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 signify the wealth of these individuals. Communication of designs and concepts would have been on a close, personal relationship basis, with the architect responding to, and accommodating, the demands of their client.
During the 20th century, the working environment of the architect began to emerge into a more public realm, as organisations, municipalities and commercial companies began to commission architectural work. Accordingly, architects had to become more active in communicating with the surrounding society, with clients and customers as well as with builders and construction firms.
In modern building projects, the communicative environment involves daily phone, email and web-support. The architect must operate virtually with the design team, client, project managers, constrictors, suppliers and public authorities. There is constant communication and systematic information exchange between project participants.
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 with computers. Architects are becoming more adept at using spatial 3D modeling and virtual reality to communicate their ideas, and this looks set to increase as technology develops.
The need for communication has increased, and the modes of communication more diverse.
 Modes of communication
In the early stages of a project, communications may be with an inexperienced client, and the subject 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Verbal communications, such as conversations, meetings and presentations. Significant verbal communications should always be confirmed in writing.
- Letters. Perhaps confirming verbal discussions, setting out terms of appointments, seeking information and so on.
- Minutes of meetings.
- Reports. Briefs, stage reports, feasibility studies, options appraisals, risk management, value management, health and safety, cost plans and so on. For more information see Construction progress reports.
- Drawings. Concept drawings or sketches, design intent drawings, general arrangement drawings, technical drawings, working drawings and so on. For more information, see Types of drawings.
- Photography. Providing a visual record of status, progress, events or defects.
- Models, samples and mock ups. These can be easier for clients and other stakeholders to understand than drawings.
- Specifications. Describing the materials and workmanship required for a development.
- Schedules of work. Instructional lists often produced on smaller projects or for alteration work.
- Programmes. Describing the sequence in which tasks must be carried out so that a project (or part of a project) can be completed on time.
- Tender documents. Prepared to seek tenders (offers) from suppliers required to complete construction works.
- Contract documents. Setting out the obligations and responsibilities of the parties to the contract.
- Requests for information. A formal question asked by one party to a contract to the other party.
- Certificates, notices and instructions. Part of the formal contract administration process.
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 architectural communication include:
- Computer aided design (CAD).
- Building information modeling (BIM).
- Fly-throughs and films.
- Virtual reality and augmented reality.
- 3D printing.
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 modeling for more information.
Whatever form of communications 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:
- The use of distribution lists to ensure the right people receive the right information. This may include a description of why they are receiving the information, for example 'for information' or 'for approval'.
- The status of the information, for example 'draft', 'checked', 'approved', 'published', 'for construction', 'archived'.
- Document control systems, making clear where documents are, who created them, what they are for and how to retrieve them. Digital systems for document control can be used that will automatically name documents, create versions, track, archive, and retrieve and them.
- Change control. At certain stages a complete package of information may be 'approved'. Once this approval has been given, a change control procedure may be introduced to ensure it is not changed without permission.
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Architectural photography.
- Architectural publishing.
- Architectural reprography.
- Building information modeling.
- Concept architectural design.
- Design review.
- Model-based design.
- Notation and units on drawings and documents.
- Photographing buildings.
- Symbols on architectural drawings.
- Using publishing to optimise real estate projects.
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