Tag Archives: CLIENT


April 5, 2024

Lincoln Studios, Santa Monica, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)

As an architect, are you successful? How should we measure success?

(photo by S K from Pixabay)

Making money is an obvious gauge, but there’s more to life than a paycheck.

Good design should count for something, but design is subjective. So success might look towards an architect’s accolades, like design awards and national honors. But there must be more than bragging rights and industry fanfare.

FAIA Investiture Ceremony, 2022 AIA National Conference, Chicago, Illinois (photos by Olive Stays and Poon Design)

We architects enjoy seeing our name in the headlines, as well as photographs of our work gracing magazine covers and online features. But is this the result of being a successful architect or having a good PR agent?

Feature profile on Metropolis (photo by Grant Bozigian)

A portfolio with depth—with projects big and small, local and national—is surely a critical marker of success. Victory might also be evaluated on one’s international projects, evidence of a world traveling architect who jets off to yet another country in demand.

(photo by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay)

Often, the success of an architect is simply having a happy client. And the more clients, the more successful this architect must be. How many new clients did you close this year? But keep in mind that quantity isn’t quality

Design Roundtable, founded by Anthony Poon, at EYRC, Los Angeles, California (photo by Design Roundtable)

Success should come from both collaboration and being part of a team, as well as leadership and managing a team. One’s contributions to the industry should count for something, whether a thought-leader, teacher, community service advocate, or respected professional.

Poon Design Inc., Los Angeles, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Perhaps, success is identified with the entrepreneurial path, being one’s own boss, having one’s name on the door, and having 10 employees or maybe 100. Or success can be within a corporation with an architect reaching the top of the company ladder, being named partner. Or perhaps doing either quietly under the radar without the need for the spotlight of conceit is worthwhile.

Poon Design Inc., Los Angeles, California (photo by Grant Bozigian)

As a struggling (starving) artist, can an architect be successful? Being part of a creative journey, searching one’s soul for answers, or mining the world for abstract ideas—such ambitious endeavors might be a measure of success regardless of the outcome.

For many, success in architecture comprises the simple things: being challenged and learning new skills.

Poon Design Inc., Los Angeles, California (photo by Grant Bozigian)

Happiness is often one of the more authentic measures of success. I believe most architects are happiest when getting to design, to be creative, to think back to how as a child, they could build things with Lego. It is about being part of open-ended travel through an existence of glorious ideas and imaginative designs, and then seeing such a vision come to fruition.

(photo by StockSnap from Pixabay)


June 12, 2020

Reception for the Culver City Chamber of Commerce held at the studio of Poon Design (photo by Culver City Chamber)

In my high school days, I worked at the Gap. The sales training stated this golden rule, “The customer is always right.” But in the business of architecture, is the customer always right?

Architects are hired to deliver a design that will suit the client’s needs. But an architect is also retained for a creative vision, and such a vision, often a personal one to the architect, could be at odds with the client’s wishes.

My first employer, the Gap (photo from adweek.com)

Years ago, for a husband-wife couple in Brentwood, I designed (what I thought was) a perfectly proportioned window for the dining room. During the window installation, the clients stated that they wanted a bigger window.

I recommended, “No! Reasons why: 1) A bigger window be out of proportion with the room. 2) The glare would be too much. 3) The view is only towards an unattractive concrete wall a few feet away. 4) You would lose privacy.”

The client disagreed and paid for the construction to be torn apart and a new window ordered. When  installed and completed, the clients were befuddled, “1) Why is this window so ridiculously large? 2) Why is there so much glare? 3) Why am I looking towards a side alley? 4) Why can my neighbors view into my formal dinners?”

The client was wrong, and I was right.

Not the actual Brentwood project of mine, but you get the idea. (photo from cantanwindows.com)

During the fireworks of this one customer debate or which there are many, I wondered how hard I should apply my Gap training. Is the client always right, even when I know they are wrong? What about my years of architecture education, professional apprenticeship, job training, etc.—not to mention my awards, client references, and articles? The Golden Rule from my youthful days of sales training may be tarnished.

We architects are in a client service industry, but we are also experts. Some might say that architectural design is subjective as in art. So why wouldn’t a client be allowed to chime in with their ideas? But the client did not attend architecture school and is not licensed by the state. Architects work not only with aesthetics and abstract thinking, but life safety, engineering and building codes.

Hill of the Buddha, Sapporo, Japan, by Tadao Ando Architect & Associates (photo from Hokkaido Fan Magazine)

Additionally, architects have a personal vision for the world. Sometimes the vision is explicit as in Tadao Ando’s poetic concrete structures or Richard Meier’s modern white buildings. In these cases, you hire the architect for their creations. You probably don’t argue that you, as the customer, know what is better for the architectural composition, or that you think the columns holding up the roof should be thinner.

Jubilee Church, Rome, Italy, by Richard Meier & Partners Architects (photo by Scott Frances)

Sometimes I want to exclaim to a frustrating client, “Hey, if you think you know what is best, if you want to design this yourself, just go ahead. I quit!” But I never have been so exasperated and discouraged as to forget that business is business. There are clients that listen to the expert that they hired, and there are clients that despite their lack of experience, think they know best and end up being their own worst enemy. And our client business is made up of the entire spectrum.


July 8, 2016

Arena for 2000 Olympics, Sydney, Australia, by Anthony Poon (w/ NBBJ)

In architecture school, our professors provided us with projects to design. Example: For this semester, design a sports arena in San Francisco, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

But here is the thing: How does an architect land such a project after graduation? This is a challenging question to ponder after you leave the comforts of school, after you have made the premature decision to start your own architecture company from your apartment. And you realize that you have no clients. Not a sports arena. Not even a bathroom addition. None at all.

Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy, by Leon Battista Alberti and Giorgio Vasari (photo by Andrea Corsi from Pixabay)

Everyone sees homes, theaters, parks and shopping centers within our communities, but how does an architect get hired to design them?

Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy, Giorgio Vasari, Bernardo Buontalenti and Alfonso Parigi the Elder (photo by Gina Aburlacitei on Unsplash)

Many architects would kill for a system I call the Medici Effect. Within such a circumstance, an architect can sustain a career through the loyal patronage of a single client—be it an individual, a retail chain, or a university. This Medici Effect is a client-architect relationship where decade after decade, the faithful client provides the architect with projects.

From the 15th to the 18th century, the Medici family reigned supreme in Florence. As wool merchants initially, then formidable bankers later, this family commissioned Renaissance painters, sculptors and writers. And yes, architects too.

Alongside hiring painters Michelangelo, Raphael and Rubens, and the scientist Galileo, the Medici’s supported architects most of all: Alberti, Vasari, Buontalenti and Bartolomeo, just to name a few. As one of the most powerful clans throughout Europe, the Medici family bankrolled the entire career of any architect of their choosing, as well as completing building upon building—from palaces to churches, from museums to hospitals.

Though a wonderful tale from hundreds of years ago, this Medici Effect does continue today. A contemporary example can be found in Culver City, where a husband/wife, client/developer team of Frederick and Laurie Samitaur Smith has sustained a 30-year patronage of Eric Owen Moss Architects. Project after project, the Smiths have produced a city-scale portfolio of buildings through the talents of this single architect

Pterodactyl: a visually-bold composition of zinc-clad boxes set into a glass office building, Culver City, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

During fortunate periods of my career, my Medici’s have appeared in the form of developers, retiring architects, friends, and even a public school district. What I have learned so far, if I have learned anything at all, is that an architect should base a career on relationships not contracts. If an architect’s entire career revolves around one hundred projects, it is better to find ten patrons that might each give you ten commissions vs. finding one hundred individual clients.

It should be taught in architecture schools, and it should be a directive at the workplace: Build relationships and attract clients. At many law firms, entry-level attorneys, even paralegals, are requested to bring in clients.

Architecture is not just about earth shattering design, but about marketing, business development and public relations. If you are simple minded, call it “schmoozing.” If you are intelligent, call it good business. And, if you are human, call it survival.

© Poon Design Inc.