In this second article of the three-part series on design, SUMITRA VASUDEVAN talks about the client-architect relationship
Designing a space is more than just getting bricks and paint together; architecture is not just science but also an art. Unlike other art forms, though, where the artist expresses a personal passion, architecture works best when the creativity of the designer reflects the user (the homeowner, the family, or the office user). Their requirements (in terms of budget, colours, material, special needs) provide the framework within which the designer must function. In public spaces, often, the user’s requirements are subsumed by the architect’s creativity. Concert halls with coffered ceilings look wonderful but they interfere with acoustics, which defeats the space’s primary function.
When designing a home, clients generally tell the architect the budget, size, number of rooms, etc. It is up to the architect to understand the unstated requirements, which are often more important and define the personality of the space.
Clients often believe that inviting the architect home provides the necessary insights but this can actually restrict their imagination by drawing attention to shortcomings such as lack of storage space or insufficient lighting. What an architect needs to do is understand what’s not said. This means understanding mindsets, understanding where the family likes to holiday, what members like to do on weekends, how they unwind, etc. For instance, understanding where the family likes to holiday — whether a rugged guesthouse in Corbett or a minimalist chrome-and-steel apartment in New York — helps convert the home into something that will delight the family.
A lot of learning happens in the initial meetings between client and designer. In fact, the learning is two-way. In one case, other family members learnt that one of them hated a particular shade of blue. Small details like this often snowball into loud and heated arguments and it is up to the architect to restore harmony by suggesting viable alternatives.
Pick and choose
The architect presents options because good design is about making the right choices. Is the room going to be a laundry, a store, or a gym? Is the Jacuzzi going to be private or is it for all to use? Does the family want a double-height living room or a music room?
Having given the options, a good architect helps the client make informed choices. Global trends such as open kitchens or floor-to-floor fenestration are introduced. The architect also creates a comfortable ambience. Will the client prefer passive methods like heat transfer to ground by using subterranean structures or active methods like mechanical exhausting — both of which are available locally? Finally, it is the duty of the architect to advise the client on socially responsible and environment-friendly homes, where energy use and waste disposal is efficient and results in low life-cycle costs. After all, creating a green home is fulfilling, both for the designer and the owner.
The choices clients make are not static and require dynamic reconfigurations. From the first-cut design to the project completion, the choices are constantly upgraded. Clients start to observe design features during their travels and want to bring them into the existing design. It is here that the architect’s expertise is most needed. These suggestions have to be evaluated and incorporated only if they are in line with the initial brief. In one project, the roof was redesigned to accommodate a grid pergola just hours before the concreting was done. But in another home designed with earthy materials, a change in light fittings was not incorporated, as it was overly decorative and did not fit the ambience.
The design process is continuous and iterative. With newer versions, the gap between a client’s dream and the architect’s solution reduces until it converges to form the ideal design. In the third and final part of this series, we will discuss the attributes needed in an architect to facilitate this process.
The writer is an Associate with Chennai-based Aprobuild Architects, which focuses on eco-friendly design. Mail her at email@example.com