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Hodder on his landmark client report

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Drawn up following a two-year consultation, the RIBA’s report on clients is a must-read for all architects says former RIBA president Stephen Hodder

The business opportunities for UK architects are ‘huge’ – as long as they can improve their relationship with clients. That is the key message of a new RIBA report, Client & Architect: Developing the Essential Relationship, which has just been published.

During his two-year term at Portland Place, Hodder made focusing on the ‘people who commission buildings’ a priority and introduced the ‘find an architect’ search facility on the revamped RIBA website, a tool that has already had more than 1 million hits this year.

The report was the result of a two-year process including 70 one-to-one meetings with developers of all sizes and 11 roundtable meetings held around the country from the West of England to the Lake District. All of this came about after Hodder decided that the RIBA needed to do more to listen to clients and pass on their messages to its membership.

As he says in the report’s forward: ‘We need to find the keys to the hearts and minds of clients. This may seem daunting to architects who feel their value is unappreciated. It need not be.

‘We found clients eager for the skills, insight, creativity and leadership that we can bring to the design and construction process. We need to grasp the opportunities to bolster the perception of our worth.’

Hodder says he believes the report outlines three primary lessons about what clients want from architects: to act as design managers and see projects through; to uphold a scheme’s design ‘vision’ without being inflexible; and to better understand the client’s own priorities and business model.

Of the first lesson, he says: ‘I was surprised at the first roundtable, where a contractor-client said there was a growing tendency for architects not to manage the interface with suppliers and specialist sub-contractors.

‘Another client said they were employing more than 20 consultants on a job and didn’t really want that – there was this suggestion that architects need to take much more of a pivotal role in delivery and technical management. The great thing about that is that, in doing that, it should then be easy for architects to justify greater fees because they’re taking on greater responsibility.’

In order to achieve this, Hodder believes architects need to learn the necessary technical skills and also become ‘more demonstrative’ on the value of their work. He also stresses that listening to clients and generally developing a better relationship with them should be an ongoing preoccupation for architects and for the institute. It will be interesting to see whether Jane Duncan, his successor as RIBA president, agrees.

Key messages from the client

Learning and improving

‘We need a quality loop like you have in the automotive industry where they pull cars apart to see where they went wrong.’ Geoff Haslam, director of Local Agenda

‘Innovation remains a difficulty. Is new design making full use of BIM and computers or the still useful art of drawing? Buildability and value engineering are often considered dirty words by architects, as though cost doesn’t matter and the issue means sacrificing design quality. Most of the ingenuity of our great architects has been achieved on low-cost budgets.’ Stuart Lipton, co-founder, Lipton Rogers

 ‘Architects need to learn which bits make a difference to educational outcomes. Inspiring spaces make a difference; tiny details around a door frame do not.’ Lyndsay Smith, director of education and national frameworks, Morgan Sindall

Championing the vision

‘It’s about taking a vision forward, it’s about working with us as a client and our communities, and it’s about shaping our city.’Ruth Rosenau, cabinet member, Stoke-on-Trent City Council

‘Architects are the spiritual leaders in this process. Everyone wants you to do it. Believe in it and reassert!’ Nick Searl, partner, Argent,

‘We want architects to co-ordinate the team because they have the overall vision,’ James Pellatt, head of projects, Great Portland Estates.

Listening and understanding

‘Architects need to be business analysts – you need to understand how the client’s business works.’ Andrew Bugg, head of project and building consultancy, Knight Frank

‘The key is to actually listen, not just make assumptions. Of course an architect should challenge the brief, but to elicit angles that the client may not conceive without prompting. This is where value is first determined and a wrong direction inevitably leads to value lost.’ Nigel Ostime, project delivery director, Hawkins\Brown Architects

‘Some of the skills that architects are missing are to do with really understanding the value – not just energy efficiency, or the building performance – but how a building translates into real returns, some of which are monetary, others that are less tangible to the client.’ Sunand Prasad, founding partner, Penoyre and Prasad

Delivering technical talent

‘If you go wrong after planning permission then you lose the benefit you gained at the early stages. The technical side generates huge value.’ Richard Cook, director, Lend Lease

‘Contractors underlined that the design manager role would not exist if designs were delivered to higher standards of assurance or in a manner that flagged design risks and allowed them to be avoided or managed.’
Dale Sinclair, director of technical practice, AECOM, RIBA vice-president practice and profession and editor of RIBA Plan of Work 2013

‘How well coordinated the project is has a huge impact on costs, delays and issues further down the line. I’m keen to see architects who understand BIM and the coordinating role it plays because it de-risks projects.’ Richard Meier, partner, Argent

Engaging with people

‘The team has to work together, but in my experience working together is not a concept architects enjoy.’ Donald Farquharson, head of capital programme delivery for Kent County Council

‘For us it’s about developing relationships with architects, gaining a level of trust so that we can be assured of the right response.’ Nick Watson, former senior regeneration manager, Croydon Council (now with Lend Lease)

‘Successful architects deal with all those little things along the way, and maintain their relationships so that clients don’t have to make all the decisions and do all of the work. The point of having an architect is to do that for them so that clients don’t have to worry.’ Nicholas Doyle, director, Adecoe


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