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Listen Before You Lead

Listen Before You Lead

People associate certain talents and characteristics with an aptitude for architecture – math and drawing being chief among them.  While a passing familiarity with calculus helps in the engineering-based classes and exams and you do have to pick up technical drawing skills along the way (at least computer-aided ones these days), a more critical litmus test is the ability and willingness to listen.

Architects need to provide leadership from project startup to completion. But what is leadership without understanding?  Most often the architect has more experience than the client in defining the problems and developing design ideas that will result in successful outcomes.  However, it is the client who knows their life, their business, their organization and what they want it to become while occupying their new or renovated space.  It’s the architect’s job, then, not to impose a vision onto a project, but to use their experience to draw out information from the client, learn from the client’s needs, and help shape this information into a vision for their – the owners’ and users’ – project.

We do this first by listening – which is more than just hearing the words said.  It begins with asking the right questions during the initial research phase and on through the whole design process.  Listening also requires an open mind; information-gathering skills; and prompt, accurate communications to confirm everyone comes out of discussions with the same understanding.  

Ultimately, the architect’s objective with every project is to build a lasting, trust-based relationship with the client.  Doing so requires paying attention, not just to facts shared, but to the person sharing them in order to make a meaningful connection and understand what a client truly needs from their building.  In this way, we can find common ground on which to base the design.

Listening is a natural ability on the one hand, but more importantly it is a skill developed through experience. It is a critical tool which architects must employ if we hope to bring value to our clients through our leadership of their projects.  It can also help us bring sense to a very complex process for our clients.  By listening to their needs, questions, hopes, and interests, we strive to make the design process fun for our clients, as well as serious, productive, and ultimately successful.


Written by Charlie Burris,  AIA