For clients who know what they want.

Sometimes a potential new client says they know exactly what they want when they first talk to us. This troubles me, and I’m tempted to say to them that they would be better contacting an alternative architectural company, but I don’t, and here’s why.

There are always many possible alternatives that should be considered, even on simple designs, sometimes they’re only minor changes but they all need to be considered and agreed upon.

The drawing is the tool we use to explain to the client what it is that we understand they want. Until this drawing is prepared, we’re relying on words and no matter how simple the project is, language is just not adequate for this task.

Let’s take the case of buying a new car. You’ve decided on the make, model and even the colour. You get to the showroom and just look at all the questions you get regarding wheels, in car entertainment, glass etc. The product we’re dealing with doesn’t even start off with a make, model or colour and so there are always choices to be considered.

So for the client who knows exactly what they want, we prepare a few choices, probably variations on a theme it’s true, but it’s a shame if a client doesn’t get the best out of the process.

The other little problem to a client knowing exactly what they want is that what they want might not be possible. They may want too much glass to comply with building regulations, the planning department may not accept it and they may not be able to afford their dream design.

We want the client to get exactly what they want, whether they know what it is or not, but it’s seldom as simple as that.

A recent client very kindly acknowledged this in a testimonial received this week:


I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Building Tectonics. Although only adding a small extension and having thought I knew what I wanted, Building Tectonics presented me with a variety of ideas and solutions to my challenges. Tony and his team guided us through the entire process, I can highly recommend them.


Maybe life’s just not that simple, but we do our best to simplify it for our clients. Sometimes initially they might think we’re trying to complicate matters, but we’re not really – we’re just doing our job.

Sex, drugs and architecture

One of my architectural lecturers used to say that along with eating drinking and sex, building was also up there as a natural impulse. Perhaps, in essence, at its heart it is nest building. This same nest-making urge may explain why some of our customers wish to convert their loft into a habitable room or extend their house even if they do not need the extra space, at least that’s what I’ve always assumed. However, there may be more to it.

Consider this, we give spaces names such as kitchen, bedroom and lounge etc and even though this nomenclature is very useful when we wish to identify a room, it also describes the activity that takes place there and so becomes a sort of repository for that function. We all like to compartmentalise whether it be our book collection or the aspects of our life and this I’m sure helps us to make order of our lives and make decisions.

However perhaps using such nomenclature belies the subtlety of human existence and life. I now realise that some clients are after a space to sit and ponder for instance, or somewhere to have a quiet face to face chat or even view their collection of matchboxes and they find it hard to explain to me as their designer what they are after.

For me, the nearest we come to this discussion is the subject of phenomenology, which may be described as those factors that together coalesce to form the character of the space. It is not just about the room or the materials or even where the space is geographically located, but something even more esoteric. It’s quite simply about the feeling the space is to engender and therefore, the problem for me is how on earth can I get inside a client’s head to know what feeling this is?

Along with requesting a list of requirements, if I sense it’s going to be helpful, I will also ask for a scrapbook of images that illicit the right feeling and this is useful but not foolproof. I would say to any such new clients, please give this some thought and I’ll try to help.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics.

Feasibility Scheme Drawings

We pride ourselves on getting the architectural plans for our schemes right, but this is almost guaranteed not to happen on the first try. So when we are commissioned to do a feasibility study, we will keep drawing up alternative designs until we get something that the client is happy with before moving onto the next stage. Sometimes we come up with a number of schemes which explore very different ideas, and sometimes there can be minor alterations as the client gets closer to a final design. It’s so important to get a design that the client agrees with before moving onto the next stage, as if the client changes their minds at any point after this stage it can cause problems which may well make the remainder of the process longer.

Below is an image of a set of schemes we have been working on in the office to give you an idea of the kinds of ideas which have been generated by our team for a particular client.

Scheme ideas

Ideas generation – we don’t give up.

I went to see a new client near Bedford recently who enquired about our services earlier in the year, but apparently engaged the competition. However the scheme she settled on has now revealed itself to be too expensive. Okay, that can sometimes happen to our projects too, but in this case this ladies architect has become unresponsive and does not seem happy to help any further. So she has got back in touch with us. Obviously I don’t know all of the circumstances yet, and it may be that her expectations are too high. Managing clients expectations is something I have had to learn and it’s not always easy to tell a client that they can’t have what they have set their heart on. To try to stop this happening to our projects, we agree a scheme with a client and we will keep generating schemes until we find one that achieves what the client wants (or very occasionally the client accepts that what they want is impossible – often because it is unacceptable to the Planning Department – usually these clients re-engage us with a new building). We will usually try to get an approximate build figure from a builder at this point to avoid the pitfall this lady finds herself in. If this figure is too high, as long as we are still within our Feasibility Scheme stage, we will go back to the “drawing board” so to speak.

Why am I telling you this? There are clients out there who will not commence a project until they can see how to do it, and I am sure that in some cases such projects never get off the ground. Idea generation is, I reckon, our number one strength. If you cannot see how to achieve what you want from your building, give us a try. Contact us and let us see if we can help.

Tony Keller
Building Tectonics Ltd.

Have faith!

We have recently had two new enquiries from potential clients for very similar projects. The houses are quite similar, even the requirements of the clients are fairly similar as well. One of these two enquirers has taken the plunge and commissioned us, and the other is hesitant because he is not sure that the house will ever meet his needs. This is very frustrating for us because we can almost always arrive at a solution to the problem and produce a scheme which achieves all of the main requirements. Sometimes we do not always achieve all of the less important items, but in many cases, we do that as well. We ensure that our fees are not an obstacle by keeping them as low as we can, but it seems that any cost is too much for some. I can understand this in some ways, but given that in most cases clients end up spending thousands of pounds on the building work our fees to do a thorough investigation are small.

The client who has commissioned us has left our office today with some preliminary schemes (four which we produced for this particular project), and he was blown away by what we have given him. We have now asked him to come back to us with some comments, and armed with those I believe that we can improve on what we have already done. He even mentioned a certain style for the house to be designed as on the exterior; he wanted a modern architectural style, as many do. Sadly, the other potential client may not be brave enough to ever commission us, and I really can see it from their point of view, it is an act of faith to commission us or any other architectural firm, this is true.

All that I can say to the hesitant is that most of our commissions end up with some work being carried out to the house, and I have never been told by a client that they wish they had not bothered. Very  occasionally, projects stall because the house just cannot be turned into what the clients want, but this happens so seldom, and even when it does, the clients can leave that house knowing just that.

As one client said to me in respect of such a stalled project, now having brought a new house

Well, we know that moving was the right thing to do, we have no doubt about that. Can you come and look at our new house as we are sure that you can improve it for us.”

For those out there sitting on the fence, please have faith, it really is such a good investment!

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.