An Unfamiliar Role

September 30, 2014

Each new project we undertake at blackLAB offers us the unique opportunity to work with a new client. As architects who focus their efforts predominately on residential design, there aren’t too many repeat clients, which has ultimately afforded us many opportunities to experiment with new ideas, as well as facilitating a fresh and constantly evolving perspective on what might constitute the right design solution, as each client inevitably seeks something different.

If you take the client away, although at the outset you might feel a sense of freedom to do as you wish, you inherently remove the single most effective way to give real purpose and direction to a project. As the primary designer, the architect acts as the vehicle for delivering the clients vision, and although we are given the responsibility of encapsulating the creative component of a project, without a client there is always a risk that the end product might lack character and a sensitivity to the end users specific needs, which of course in residential design is critical in realizing a successful outcome.

Just recently a scenario that served as testament to this faced me for the first time as I endeavoured to undertake the re-programming of my existing home for my family. In doing so, although my wife (Sarah) formed part of the team, we were effectively removing the role of the client in a more traditional sense from the process, and instead acting as both architect and client in tandem ourselves.

At the outset we were faced with a blank canvas to create whatever we deemed fit, and ultimately had the opportunity to have some fun implementing a series of design ideas I had played with in the past, but was never fortunate enough to previously execute. However, it wasn’t long before I began to miss the client interaction that surrounds a more typical project. Although I had a clear vision, it quickly became apparent that having the freedom to do as I pleased (to a degree) wasn’t really what I was used to.

Sarah was always capable of providing her perspective on the design, but somehow the comfort of designing for what ultimately amounted to be our own home was definitely proving to be more challenging than I had first thought. Initially, it seemed all too easy to simply commit to the first idea that came about, rather than to test myself further. This was an interesting dynamic, and one that I had to work through.

Perhaps it was the more formal process that we typically experience in presenting our ideas to a client in an open meeting, or simply the fact that a designer needs to be challenged by the unexpected reaction of an outsiders perspective if they are to be most successful. Since experiencing this new format I have definitely developed a new found appreciation and thirst for receiving constructive criticism from others in order to benefit the greater good of a project.

Further more, I have found that if you are seeking a better and more cohesive outcome to a given situation, it is tough to achieve this in isolation, and critical to encompass the input of others, and their unpredictable perspective on an idea. Whilst I have enjoyed designing for our own personal gain in this instance, and am sure we have addressed our needs accurately, I have missed the familiarity and thrill of working for a client who positions themselves as somewhat of an unknown quantity to re-direct a projects focus, or to create a shift in an idea.

At blackLAB we strive to create incredibly functional, efficient and beautiful architecture, and enjoy the highly interactive process of engaging both with our clients and also as a team within our intimate office environment. This project alone has reiterated the importance of remaining humble as a designer, as well as the necessity of embracing team involvement in order to be constantly tested, which as an office we continue to enjoy whenever possible.