An Open Letter to Architects
Anyone that knows a thing or two about architecture has heard about Le Corbusier, a world-renowned Swiss architect who changed the face of architecture in the early 20th century with architectural gems such as the Villa Savoy and Unité d'habitation. His five points of architecture rocked the industry and lead to massive changes in the way spaces were created and the materials that were used. In almost every way Le Corbusier was a trailblazer and a master architect, which is why his works are well known and his theories and practices are taught to aspiring architects and designers.
However, when many aspiring architects are learning about Le Corbusier and other famous architects, what is less emphasized is how they approach architecture and work with clients.
I'm not sure if this is a phenomenon in all architecture programs, but all throughout my time at architecture school, the client - the ultimate users of the building - were never mentioned. The only time I ever heard about a client was when we jokingly discussed how much the owner of Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House hated it after it was built for her. This concept of teaching that a building is form and space detached from the user is just wrong. Why aren't we looking at buildings and determining their success based on how well they serve the users? Isn't that the point of architecture? Although many could disagree, architecture is not sculpture. Infrastructure serves a purpose and the best way to know the success of a project is not by simply examining the form and how it was integrated into the site, but also analyzing how the user feels and experiences the space.
Unfortunately, this style of training has taught many architects and architectural designers that their training and experience overrides the client's wishes. It has taught them that a client may think they know what they want, but really it is the architect's job to educate them on what design solutions would actually be best. I don't like this approach. I think it belittles the client, who in almost every case knows more about the functional needs of the structure than the architect. Yes, the client is coming to you because they need your ability to create space, but you, as the architect, need them much more to figure out what the needs of the space actually are. You as the architect know how to create space and evoke emotion, but that is not all you are being hired to do. You need the practical information about how the users will use the space before you can begin to design the absolutely critical functional components of the design.
In the vast majority of cases, infrastructure could be greatly improved if the architect listened to, and worked with, the ideas and opinions of the everyday users of the spaces.
This is an open letter to architects about listening to the client and not making assumptions on the grounds that you grinded through architecture school and have 25 years of experience. You know how to create space, but you don't inherently understand how the users of the building will use the space. This lack of communication between the architect and the user is an issue that can consistently be seen throughout the built environment.
Recently, I visited my old high school that was rebuilt after I graduated. One of the teachers gave me a tour and listed many of the features they liked but also mentioned, "It clearly wasn't designed by a teacher." This small comment just let me know that although this architectural firm had designed many schools in the past and had a good reputation, they still weren't working directly with the individuals who are using the building every day.
Another example is a restaurant my friend owns. They brought in an architectural firm that was well known for designing top notch kitchens and dining spaces for restaurants. Unknowingly, the firm designed a choke point in the kitchen that is now the cause of frequent collisions, burns, and broken glasses. The architects have knowledge about space and were able to evoke the correct feeling for the dining room, but were unaware of the circulation in the kitchen during service because they didn't spend enough, or any, time listening to the chefs, servers, and other supportive staff in the restaurant.
These two examples are just a few of the almost daily occurrences everyone encounters when the design could have been greatly improved if architects took their own assumptions and opinions out of the equation.
If we looked at all the works of Le Corbusier and rated them on how loved they were by the users, do you still believe he would be so highly regarded? Maybe so - his impact on the architectural world is immense. But without analyzing how effective his designs were for the people who used it, how can we really judge their success?