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Communication in the Design Process

Stephen A Brown. E & F N Spon, 2001. 176pp

Stephen Brown has more than 20 years experience in the construction industry as both an architect and the chairman of an estates management company. He has brought the results of his first-hand experience as client and consultant together with his own detailed research to help identify the causes of the gap that can exist between client expectation and its realization in construction projects. Many of the areas of study are familiar to anyone who has read the work of Egan and Latham, but this even-handed book also contains a great deal of additional background academic and practice-based study. According to Brown, project success should be measured for performance on function, cost, time and, more unusually, aesthetics. Apparently there are reasonable degrees of satisfaction among architecture's clients on this last point! Less encouraging is the depressingly repetitive pattern of failed projects, and the consistent level of failure throughout the past two decades.

The research reviews the various communication interfaces between the construction team and the client and analyses the sources of failure, current perceptions within the industry, and possible future strategies. The use of clear diagrams and tables adds to the readability of the text, as does the inclusion of real-life examples to illustrate points. Brown also identifies and discusses the very real financial and time pressures on an architect's own business, and reminds us that a consultant's duty is to ensure understanding through communication, not to simply provide information (albeit in a quality assured way).

There is a slight bias towards the role of the facilities manager in the text. This is not surprising, as the basis of the book was in part the author's research undertaken for a masters degree in facility and environmental management.As facilities management covers a diverse collection of client-orientated roles this doesn't detract from the clarity of the author's conclusions.

Communication in the design process identifies the lack of trust between employers and the construction industry as the key barrier to the successful adoption of partnering principles. Only through increased understanding and better communication throughout the design process can we hope to build this trust and embrace the future vision of Latham and Egan. You won't agree with all the author's conclusions, but will certainly identify useful strategies and suggestions for the future.

Steve Naylor is an architect at Geoffrey Purves Partnership in Newcastle upon Tyne

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