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Think about designing a residential building for clients with very specific needs. They are sociable but blind, although they have excellent hearing which allows them to navigate with ease. And they have very particular eating habits. You need to design this building by learning as much as you can about the clients, but will have little direct contact with them and no exchange of ideas. Today, when client consultation is such a buzz phrase, this seems an outrageous, paternalistic approach. Except that the clients are bats, not known for their conversational skills.

Fortunately, bats have been studied intensively, mostly because they are a protected species with a close association with buildings.

This makes it possible to launch a competition to design a much-needed residence for them in west London (see page 16).

At least bats behave homogeneously within their species. The same cannot be said for any human grouping, but architects can compensate for this by consultation. For its social housing project in New Islington (see the Building Study on pages 25-37), de Metz Forbes Knight conducted an extensive process of discussion with both the client and end users. This informed a design that has carefully considered both individual needs for space and arrangement, and differentiation. One should not under estimate the importance of people being able to identify their own home when they return on a dark night. This is also one of the key points in designing for bats - leaving the surroundings unencumbered, so that they have an easy ight path to reach home.

But whereas the bat competition is likely to result in an expressive piece of design, de Metz Forbes Knight has deliberately underplayed things for its sighted tenants. It has supplied them with a background on which they can impose their own personalities - and equally importantly, future residents, who will not have been part of the consultation process, will be able do the same.

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