In contrast to our prima-donna image, we architects are for the most part fairly quiet souls. Still, there is one surefire way to get us apoplectic, and that’s to have people second-guessing us and meddling with our work. So if you ever want to drive an architect crazy, that’s a fine way to do it.
It’s important to understand that architects – good ones, anyway – spend dozens and sometimes hundreds of hours considering every aspect of a project, weighing the pros and cons of a whole array of possible solutions, and in short devoting a ridiculous amount of time and effort to thinking things through on the client’s behalf. This is not to say that no one else can contribute good ideas: well-reasoned opinions are always welcome. But when some clueless outsider blunders in and offers a critique based on a grand total of about five seconds of thought, we don’t respond well at all.
What’s even worse is when clients accord such opinions equal weight to our own. I mean, if the mailman has such great ideas, why isn’t he designing additions?
I once had a client who was a delight to work with. Over the many months it took to plan her sprawling addition – which included a new kitchen and family room, several bedrooms and bathrooms, and a poolhouse – she cheerfully accepted my ideas without hesitation. And I soon found out why: she accepted everyone’s ideas without hesitation. Long after I began the final drawings – in painstaking accord with the scheme she’d approved – I’d get weekly calls that went something like this:
“Gee, yesterday I was talking to (insert: my brother-in-law, my 10-year-old nephew, the Maytag man, the kid who cleans the pool) and he thought you should try putting the door to the laundry so-and-so…”
Each time, I’d listen quietly as I felt my blood pressure climb. Then I’d explain yet again how I’d already considered and rejected that idea – which, after all, was what she was paying me for – and that for reasons X, Y and Z the best solution was the one we’d long since agreed upon.
“Oh…OK then,” she’d reply, apparently satisfied – at least until her next chance encounter with the meter reader or the ice cream man.
But the last straw came just before the construction drawings were finished. At this point my client hired a kitchen designer – with my encouragement – ostensibly to work out the details of cabinet hardware and the like. Alas, this person seemed to have grander ambitions, and decided to appoint herself oracle of the entire 1600-square-foot addition. Sure enough, I got a note from my client telling me to hold off finishing the drawings until the kitchen designer could tell me what to change.
“She looked at your plans for a couple of hours, and she had some really good ideas,” said my client, evidently impressed.
Well, that finally transformed the mild-mannered architect into the Incredible Hulk. I told my client – as politely as possible – that after spending some six months refining her plans, I wasn’t about to take any snap architectural judgments from a renegade kitchen designer, much less one who presumed to second-guess my work based on a few hours of study.
Happily, the situation was defused after a bit of pointed discussion. The kitchen designer was summarily returned to her territory, the pool boy and the ice cream man were kicked off the design team, and I put away my tattered Hulk outfit until next time.
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