Tag Archives: CLIENTS

BAD APPLES

November 11, 2016

A client screaming at his architect (from hongkiat.com)

No client names are mentioned. This essay will not kill my career, but I certainly have no shortage of battle scars from ridiculous clients. When it comes to what a client can demand of their architect, I am sure that they are not yet done with me.

Gary Cooper as Howard Roark with his clients, The Fountainhead, 1949
Gary Cooper as Howard Roark with his clients, The Fountainhead, 1949

Yes, clients.

Architecture is a service industry. So while our art form pursues creative passions, we are here to oblige.

Unfortunately, architecture cannot exist without the client who hires the architect with a project in mind, with a location at hand, and with the wallet to bankroll the whole thing. Similar to a dentist, an accountant, and even a cobbler, architects are in a business that relies on customers.

Even the art of making shoes requires customers, a cobbler in Capri, Italy (photo by Jorge Royan)
Even the art of making shoes requires customers, a cobbler in Capri, Italy (photo by Jorge Royan)

I say ‘unfortunately’ because at times, I fantasize about creating architecture without the involvement of (meddling) clients. I wish to create designs exclusively of my interest and no one else’s. I am often envious of poets who have the luxury of writing poems as they choose. For the most part, poets don’t wait around to be contracted by a client, paid a retainer check, and then given the poem’s subject matter and stylistic direction.

An architect fantasizing about his designs in The Architect’s Dream, Thomas Cole, 1840
An architect fantasizing about his designs in The Architect’s Dream, Thomas Cole, 1840

Imagine this dreadful situation: A poet by legal contract composes four options for a poem, recites his work before a committee, and then must listen to the client’s so-called “constructive criticism.” The committee’s feedback usually demands the absurd combination of the content of the first option, the length of the second option, a few words from the third option, but with the tone of the fourth option!

Who do the clients want their architect to be? Man Juggling His Own Head, unknown artist, 1880
Who do the clients want their architect to be? Man Juggling His Own Head, unknown artist, 1880

Architects do so much for their clients that go beyond the industry of architecture. When designing a restaurant, I am asked my opinion of the menu, as if I am a food critic or chef. When designing a shopping center, I am asked my opinion on concepts for profitability, as if I am a financial analyst. When designing for a client, I am called upon to be a best friend, psychiatrist, marriage counselor, life coach, church member, gym buddy, car mechanic, or any such role that doesn’t actually relate to the skills I acquired in architecture school.

Guilty of profiling, I have categorized my worst clients. Those of us in any service industry know these customers. In an earlier draft of this article, I detailed rants for each specific client below. But life has enough negativity. Let’s leave my tirade as merely a list for your imagination.

Some clients have no idea what they want or like (from 3coze.com)
Some clients have no idea what they want or like (from 3coze.com)

 The Indecisive and The Chaotic
The Yellers and The Whiners
The Bandits and The Delinquent
The Needy and The Insecure
The Haters and The Unhappy
The Narcissistic and The Conceited

Vincent D’Onofrio in The Cell, 2000
Vincent D’Onofrio in The Cell, 2000

There is no end to clients that are bizarre, melodramatic, thoughtless, dishonest, loathsome, and invasive—and even criminal. (I had one client that was found guilty of fraud, witness tampering, bribery, and obstruction of justice—in a murder case.)

Though there are indeed great clients—the ones that get me out of bed smiling, the ones that love the design process, the ones that beam with joy from our discussions—it is the scary client that keep me up at night. This client always has new ways to torture your architect.

So very scary, Heather Donahue in The Blair Witch Project, 1999
So very scary, Heather Donahue in The Blair Witch Project, 1999

EIGHT THINGS I DISLIKE ABOUT ARCHITECTURE

September 2, 2016

1893 Chicago's World Fair, Illinois

ONE

Clients who change their minds every other day. I get it; it’s their project and it’s their money. They are the customers, and I would not have a business without them. But I am hired to be the design authority. So why is all my expertise cast aside, only to have me arbitrarily move a wall six inches in one direction, then three inches in another direction, then back to the original position—and then, do this again 20 more times over months?

Figure drawing by Anthony Poon
Figure drawing by Anthony Poon

TWO

The business of architecture. To have work, I have to market the company— promote, promote, promote. I also bill clients, pay insurance and rent, manage finances, execute contracts, and take care of payroll and taxes. Being an entrepreneur and sole proprietor, such are mandatory activities, but they interfere with doing what I love: to draw, design and create.

THREE

Technology that has overtaken artistry and imagination. Computers are powerful and convenient. I can’t imagine my business without them, but they are just one of many tools. Some architects have forgotten how to use their hands, their eyes, and their souls. And some clients believe (incorrectly) that simply with the use of a computer, architects should be able to do more work and do it faster.

Revit file for mixed-use project, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design
Revit file for mixed-use project, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design

FOUR

The frightening responsibility of what I do. Poorly selected kitchen cabinets might compromise the aesthetics of a house, but an incompetent design of fire exits for 10-story student dormitories is a life and death matter.

Northwest Campus Student Housing, University of California, Los Angeles, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Michael Moran)
Northwest Campus Student Housing, University of California, Los Angeles, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Michael Moran)

FIVE

Interior decorators who call themselves interior designers, as if to suggest these decorators shape architectural space, structure and light. Whether decorator or designer, why is it that they (alas, many of my friends are interior decorators/designers) garner higher pay than architects? Is selecting the right hue for a pillow sham as significant as my design for a high school?

Pacifica Christian High School, Culver City, California, by Poon Design
Pacifica Christian High School, Culver City, California, by Poon Design

SIX

Red Tape: working with the bureaucracy of city agencies to obtain approvals, even for the simplest of things. I do appreciate the need for the Department of Building and Safety to protect us against the unscrupulous and derelict, but I am neither unscrupulous nor derelict. I have better things to do than spend hundreds of hours waiting in line to submit a soils report, only to be rejected because today is the staff party for their July birthdays, and the counter has abruptly closed.

SEVEN

Bleeding for the art. Architecture is a struggle, and if it was easy, we probably wouldn’t be interesting in doing it. But most architects work way too hard, struggle too much. Pritzker-awarded Rafael Moneo once told our class not to worry. Without missing a beat and in all seriousness, this head of Harvard’s architecture school declared, “You have more than the five calendar days left to complete the project; you have ten days. Five days and five nights. Do not sleep!”

Murcia Town Hall, Spain, by Rafael Moneo (photo from metalocus.es)
Murcia Town Hall, Spain, by Rafael Moneo (photo from metalocus.es)

Fountainhead-WebEIGHT

The ego of some architects with their overly curated philosophical platforms laced with intellectual superiority. Architects, charged with solving design challenges with innovation and efficiency, do have a vital role in society. But are we rock stars? Are we “Starchitects?” I often wonder whether Ayn Rand was serious about the greatness of architects, or was she simply elbow jabbing the profession, slyly mocking us.

© Poon Design Inc.