Here at the magazine we're in a contemplative state of mind. Last month we reached a milestone: 10 years of covering the people, projects, and products that stand out in the architecture field. When we're sloganeering out in the world, those are the “p” words we're most apt to mention. But there's another alliterative word that more accurately describes our focus: process. We're fascinated by the process of design, construction, and the day-to-day management of architecture firms.
Savoring process is about as close as you can come to that famous new age goal of “living in the moment.” Architects thrive on the prestidigitation that brings a unique project together. Sure, you love having created something for others to enjoy, but you delight in the act of creation as well. If you're lucky, you'll find a client who enjoys the journey as much as you do.
Chances are, though, that client is a rare animal. It turns out “living in the moment” is really hard to do. Maybe only architects, artists, actors, and athletes can do it with any aplomb. Maybe it's an “a” thing. The emerging problem here is the increasing number of architects who think touting the journey is the best way for them to differentiate what they do from what lesser professionals deliver. While you and I and patrons of the profession think the process of designing and building houses is noteworthy, many people in our goal-oriented society believe it's no more than an onerous means to an end.
Why do home builders sell so many houses? In large part, it's because they've streamlined “the process” of home buying to signing a deposit check and shopping your mortgage. Maybe you pick a few upgrades, too. It isn't because their houses are more beautiful; they're just far easier to attain.
Architects are often encouraging clients to disembark from their safe harbor. “Let's set sail and see where the wind takes us,” they say. “Let's explore uncharted seas.” But alas, most clients are happiest on terra firma—the more firma, the better. They don't want a journey; they want the destination. They've come to you because they can't find the house they want on the market. And frankly, they'd rather not wait the two years or more it'll take to have it designed and built. They aren't interested in process. They want, heaven forbid, a product—albeit a product that's beautifully designed and meticulously crafted.
Maybe we need to add another “p” word to our lexicon: practical. In most cases, your challenge isn't to make your clients more buoyant, it's to make your art more concrete. Do your clients understand that you'll design them a floor plan that really works for their family, and you'll still make the window and door placement look great from the exterior of the house? How many builders get that right?
You're a skilled professional who provides a significant service, but the result of that service—a superior house—is the important thing to peddle. Clients need what you can deliver: practical, artful solutions to their problems. Which label do you think they'll find more compelling: process server or problem solver?
Your clients don't only want to live in the moment; they want a beautiful house to enjoy for a lifetime. Problem solved.
Comments? E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.