(Occasional) Lecturing in Architecture
20th October 2011
This was new one for me, and a very enjoyable diversion from the norm. I have had the pleasure of teaching a bit about what I do.
Naomi Cleaver, interior designer, of Channel 4 fame (I bet she gets fed up with being defined as someone off the telly) and author of the impressive a beautiful design guide The Joy of Home, having recently arrived in our neck of the woods, has started a series of design courses.
I have often pondered the idea of lecturing, primarily because in a previous life I taught guitar, and I found it challenging and beneficial to have have to analyse what I do in order to communicate it to someone else. I am not ready to step into academia, as the job itself is just too much fun, but talking to a room of interested people about how we get from the sketch pad to a finished building was an exciting prospect.
The course took place at The Combe House Hotel, a classic English country house set in pastoral splendour, and occupied an ancient kitchen with a five metre ceiling. It was sponsored by Britannia Lanes, who are obviously a very enlightened removal company who recognise the emotional investment people make when moving home, and the now ubiquitous desire to make our mark on the houses we live in. There was a wide range of ages and I daresay taste and expectation amongst the students. Naomi lectured with her usual aplomb on her “trade secrets”. I gave a quick 45 minute talk on how to communicate ideas, which morphed into job-running generally and a good old chat about projects good and bad.
It is of course impossible to condense a career’s experience into 45 minutes, I barely scratched the surface, but I should mention one of the twenty-something slides I in prepared for my talk, an ideogram to describe the different levels and types of information appropriate to the varying professions and encountered during the course of a construction project.
I call it The 4×4 method. And yes, there were a few 4×4 vehicles parked out front of the hotel.
So here it is:
While I am at it, I may as well include my lecture notes:
4 x 4 : communicating appropriately to get the best from trades and professionals
When you are communicating your ideas, it is important to understand who you are communicating with.
In general, the closer you get to the people who actually do the work, the more specific you need to be.
At the “top end”, with a designer or architect, you will probably get the best out your ideas by engaging in discussion with them, around drawings and models.
At the other end, on the ground, it may be best to instruct craftsmen to carry out a task, and be very specific – spell it out.
Of course, there are exceptions. There are architects who don’t listen and can’t discuss, and craftsmen who are artisans who can make a great contribution – the trick is in discerning this.
For today’s purposes, I would divide the people you might deal with during your project broadly into four categories:
Architect / Designer / Landscape Architect
Surveyor / Draughstman / Technician
Builder / Engineer / Craftsman
Decorator / Labourer
The boundaries between these types of skills can blur, but generally speaking you won’t find an architect who decorates, or a labourer who designs.
You will meet builders, surveyors and engineers and planners who either claim to design or start designing without being asked – probably prudent not to let them.
This is also true with planners – they often have little or no design training. With them you must be pleasant and constructive while standing your ground.
Good professionals stick with what they are good at. A good architect recognizes the skill of a craftsman and is happy to discuss and take some direction from a skilled builder to get the best results.
To get the best result, as in all communication, there will be times to listen and times to talk. But remember, whoever you are communicating with, this is YOUR project, not theirs.