Messy divorce or happy ever after? It's all in the chemistry
A friend recently noted that contemporaries are 'always up for review' and when one of her friends fails her, she unhesitatingly strikes them off. Which led me to consider that most vital relationship of client and architect: who is up for review, by whom and when.
Continuous review must be right for both parties, since the relationship is about value, trust and performance. It can appear to be a lopsided two-way deal: the architect spends large amounts of the client's money and charges large amounts for doing so. Clients are required to value their architect's opinion, trust their judgement and hope the architect respects this entrustment. This is asking a great many different things of both parties. Honesty and frankness are crucial - loss of trust begets poor performance and distresses both parties.
The impact of failing relationships is evident everywhere you look, and is a reminder that, while you can make architecture in difficult circumstances, to make really good architecture you need a really good client.
Fortunately, I have good clients. Much of this is down to good fortune, as clients often come from the most obscure chance connections. Competitions are also an essential means of securing clients (and are very nice to win), but often create a 'shotgun marriage'. In the office we can reflect on the value of losing competitions: you will win some, lose some, and some are preordained (pre-agreed even, but that could be in your favour one day). Importantly, despite a desperate desire to build, I accepted early on that if I didn't like someone, I was unlikely to be able to convince him, her or myself that there was a future for us. You don't need Desmond Morris to chart the group dynamic, you just need to believe it's worth spending time together - because you certainly will.
Architects have to prove they are right for one job and accept they are not suited to another (ideally without wasting either party's time). So which jobs do you go for? Projects are like buses: you wait (possibly for many years), then they come along together. At this point you have to decide between trying to ride all of them or, if you think it's possible, selecting only the best. After the dark years, bereft of work, I tend to want to get on them all - I have a fear, honed by experience, that the single bus may leave me stranded. And, anyway, I find many different journeys more entertaining and informative, given the perspectives they offer. Whatever choices you make, you risk appearing greedy, and becoming overextended - though few can emulate Glenn Murcutt's one current project and an endless waiting list (a myth? ). Ultimately, getting work is about personalities, approaches to architecture and overcoming reservations about 'selling'; it is far easier to sell an idea than it is to sell yourself, but neither necessarily comes easy. You cannot be a job-hungry ogre if it is not in your make-up.
One certainty is the impossibility of making an architectural silk purse from a sow's ear of a professional relationship. Whatever your workload and cash flow, you are best advised, on entering a potentially inappropriate client's offices, to take the advice given to me by Owen Luder: offer them a cheque for £20,000 (at 1980s prices, when the story was told) and end the relationship there. If you don't, you stand to lose a lot more money.
Clearly both architect and client must set out in the belief that they will enjoy the process of inventing the project, just as they must hope that others will eventually take pleasure in using the building. They must certainly accept - as surely as contracts exist, disagreements emerge and lawyers arrive - that relationships will at times be rocky. To adapt the old saying, during these periods it is then a case of laughing when you could have cried.