There is a long-standing debate about how well architectural education prepares students for their eventual professional career. Whilst the common criticism is of too much focus on conceptual rather than technical design, an equally important skill of the architect is the ability to successfully manage relationships.
Educated, socialised and criticised in silos, architects have an engrained perception of what they do and what their value is. Ultimately of greater importance is how they are perceived by commissioning clients as well as fellow consultants
In this light the RIBA Client & Architect report, ‘developing the essential relationship’ published in September 2015 seeks to give the profession an invaluable collection of opinions and expectations from key clients across various industry sectors.
Undertaken by the RIBA Client Liason Group; set up by outgoing RIBA President Stephen Hodder, the report is the result of two years of client consultations including 15 round table discussions.
Key findings of the report are a common desire for the profession to show good leadership, communication skills and both an understanding and respect of the client’s motives. This puts architects in a stronger and more influential position.
With this in mind, last year I attended a RIBA London CPD entitled ‘The Skills You Need to Succeed’.
Through a mixture of theory and role-play exercises lead by specialist voice coach Richard Fallon, the CPD aimed to first demonstrate an aspect of mirror neuron theory; that the level of energy and enthusiasm transmitted by verbal and non-verbal communication is often reciprocated by an audience.
Further exercises focussed on tailoring speech to each individual whilst reflecting the right balance of ethos, pathos and logos to develop an empathetic and trusting relationship. Clients often make decisions partly based on emotion, which makes these skills very important.
I found that role-plays with fellow attendees presented me with rare feedback about the way I communicate with others. Whilst architectural education provides regular practice at verbal presentations, in my experience criticism and discussion focussed on what was presented rather than said.
How could students be better prepared for managing and developing client relationships at university? As Nigel Ostime, chair of the Client Liason Group writes in ‘Lend them your ears’ in the RIBA Client & Architect:
‘most aspiring architects don’t actually meet clients, certainly to interact with them as their agent , until they are in the workplace’
Perhaps this could be done through live projects or the invitation of clients or non-architects to crits. (‘the architect’s pitch’ on archiboo.com provides architects with presentation feedback from potential clients) encouraging students to be more professional and versatile in both management and presentation. Criticism of verbal presentation can risk being too personal but ignoring it will lead to many graduates struggling to make an impact in practice.