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Perfect balance for perfect design

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In this concluding section of the series, ANURADHA N. RAO talks of what clients should look for in architects

As we explained in the previous two sections, every home or building is a dream and more than just a project. A client wants this dream fulfilled and it is up to the architect to understand the stated and unstated aspirations and translate them into brick and concrete.

Every home or building is a combination of five factors:

The dreams and aspirations of the client and the family

The regulatory aspects governing the build of the home

The site characteristics

Aesthetics

Functional aspects

It is up to the architect to bring these five facets together and give the client a single, composite view of the future home. By providing a single view and designing to those requirements, the architect adds direct value, minimises rework and time and cost overruns.

The relationship between client and architect has to be two-way. Clients must look for certain characteristics when choosing the right architect.

Flexibility is the first in the list of attributes a client should look for. But be warned. Just as flexibility is important, so is rigidity. With excessive flexibility, the design becomes a compilation of the client’s ideas, good and bad. The architect should be able to segregate ideas, accept the beneficial ones, and reject the bad ones. Clients who are initially disappointed are quick to appreciate the reasons when they see the whole project.

Interpretation is by far the most important contribution the architect makes.  Several styles like Art Deco, Modernism, Chettinad or Contemporary are about a ‘feel’ that transports viewers to a specific time or place. Architecturally, they include functional features such as ventilation, heat conservation and cooling, as well as aesthetic features like arches or window seats. In the hospitality sector, it is common to exaggerate this style to build palatial hotels or spas. In other buildings, too authentic a reproduction can be overbearing. It would not be comfortable to have a school or home in an overly stylised building. Adaptation of relevant features to suit the lifestyle is crucial. Wind tunnels and jalis are some features that have been successfully reinterpreted in contemporary design.

Most people make a list of requirements. They include facilities they have already enjoyed or what they think is a must. This list, of course, varies from client to client. Some want two kitchens; others want a large dining room; some demand Jacuzzis, while others consider them a criminal waste of money and space. It’s no wonder then that it is important for the architect to have the same view of the must-have and the nice-to-have lists.

Project Management and Execution Excellence is a core competency that every client looks for. In today’s fast-changing economy, costs can increase at any stage of the project. A good architect brings in a professional budgeting cycle- and tool-based monitoring that helps clients to baseline and buffer costs and potential overruns. During the project, the architect has a dedicated PMO (project management office) that constantly oversees and coordinates all activities including contracting.

The PMO provides periodic reporting and face-to-face meetings with the client to ensure on-time and on-cost management. When the budget does overrun due to factors outside of the project control, the architect helps to re-baseline the costs. This is crucial in loan-driven projects, for banks and clients to understand the metrics used and the reasons for the overruns.

One important parameter in any design and development initiative is environmental considerations and adopting green practices. It is critical that the client is able to discern design ideas by ensuring that the architect is LEED qualified.

This ensures that the right benchmarks and best practices are put in place during the design process. In corporate initiatives involving large projects, these qualifications help to optimise workflows for better productivity.

Finally, as in any relationship, due to neutrality between the clients and contractors, an architect’s role is to bring in trust and transparency. Such a partnership ensures homogeneity and graceful execution of the project.

Seeing is believing. It is important to understand and even experience the earlier projects of the architect. With a smart selection and a religiously followed methodology, it is possible to achieve ideal design. But the job is only half done. Implementation is another story, with its quota of surprises. So the creativity and innovation continues till the dream is realised.

The writer is Chief Architect with Chennai-based Aprobuild Architects, which focuses on eco-friendly design. Mail her at  hinduhabitat@gmail.com

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