In Architect We Trust / by S. Joshua Brincko

Trust is something that must be earned. Do you trust your doctor? Your mailman? Your priest? Your teacher? Most people do with few exceptions. How have they earned your trust? You don't really know them all that well, but somehow they are inherently trusted to heal you, teach you, or deliver your mail. Trusting a doctor is much more important than trusting your mailman will deliver mail on time, but that trust is still very important.

After describing your symptoms to the best of your ability, you trust your doctor will diagnose the problem properly and quickly treat it. Why do we trust that will happen? Probably because the doc devoted his or her life to medicine, spent 4 years in college, spent 4 years in medical school, passed state board exams, and maybe spent another couple years specializing. The trust was earned from all that hard work. We trust the doctor has the same goal as we do: make me feel better. 

As an architect, I find it rewarding that I often receive that same level of trust. People consider me an expert in my field, and frankly...I am. I also spent 4 years in college, 2 years in grad school, 3+ years apprenticing under a licensed architect, and passed 9 state board exams with recurring audits on my professional development and continued scrutiny from building officials. I also have additional experience working with 4 other award-winning design firms, and also running my own design firm for over 10 years. It is also interesting that I sometimes do not receive this level of trust from some clients. It must be earned in addition to these credentials. Here's what I find interesting about it: to earn the trust in these situations, I have to first complete the work (successfully) for that client. OK, so I eventually earn the trust, but what's the point? The client still worked with me anyway before they developed the trust which creates an inefficient relationship where the client questions the choices of the architect. The whole process would be much easier for everyone if the client would trust the architect they hired. Some clients will draw their own "floor plans," insist on doors or closets in weird places that bump into toilets when swung open, or don't consider the window they requested looks directly into their neighbor's bathroom while missing the great view and natural light on the opposite wall.

Why do clients hire architects? It's not to draft lines on paper. Architects are hired to offer years of experience and input on the construction of a building. It is most beneficial for a client to let the architect "do his thing" and trust it will turn out great in the end. Imagine a patient telling a surgeon how to make the incision or telling the anesthesiologist to increase the dosage. The wrong choice can have major consequences. Buildings are major undertakings. They cost more than most surgeries, and they can also injure many people if poorly designed. This is why it is very important to trust the experts we hire. They want what is best for everyone.

Architects evaluate hundreds of options formally and informally before presenting them to clients. These options consider the easier, obvious things like spatial constraints, code requirements, and material/construction capabilities, and even more difficult things are considered such as perception of privacy, emotions evoked by space/material, and complicated patterns of flow and functionality. Based on the training and experience of an architect, these factors are all simultaneously evaluated before choosing the best possible solution. Occasionally, a client will not realize this level of thought, and he or she might demand fallacious requests inconsistent with the matrix of factors the architect must consider. This happens. Some people need or want things explained in greater detail, and it is part of the architect's job to ensure the client is making an educated choice. It does get frustrating though when a client makes a decision based on the wrong facts, incomplete facts, or no facts at all. I believe it is unethical to allow a client to make a poor choice like that, so I would rather speak up and explain why another choice is, in fact, the right one. Many clients in the past have respected me for "protecting them from themselves." If a client would ever disapprove of this type of honesty, I would question their reasoning for hiring an architect and politely request they hire another one.

Buildings are expensive, and we don't want you to make the wrong choice. It's too costly and difficult to live with a bad decision. Not only do we want you to love your project, but we also want a nice project in our portfolio. All of our recommendations result in the best project which makes everyone happy in the end.