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    Listening

    by Karen A. Franck and Teresa von Sommaruga Howard

    Architecture firms commonly advertise on their websites that they "listen." Similarly, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) recommends that after clients have interviewed potential architects and have chosen a leading candidate that, among other items, the clients consider whether "the architect really listened to what you were saying." The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) states that at the initial meeting, after an architect has been chosen, "your architect will listen carefully to your intentions..." The word listen is used frequently enough to suggest its importance but it is also used loosely.

    Listening involves more than being silent and looking attentive. In conversations between architect and client, both need to listen in an active and interactive way, not only taking in information but also working hard to understand and to check that they have understood each other correctly. Even what seem to be the simplest requests and clearly stated requirements often require clarification and confirmation.

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    A colleague of Teresa's recently commissioned an architect to add an extension to her house. The client thought she had been very clear about the ceiling height she wanted. When the extension was finished, she discovered the architect had misunderstood that she meant the height indoors and had applied her request to the height outside.

    A friend of Karen's made it very clear to her architect that in the house he was designing for her, the bathroom needed to be large enough to accommodate a large-sized bathtub. After the plans were completed, she discovered that he had not followed her request, using the space instead to create a larger dining space. His answer in response to her surprise was, "I didn't think it was that important to you."   >>>

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    This article is excerpted from Design through Dialogue by Karen A. Franck and Teresa von Sommaruga Howard, copyright © 2010, with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons.

     

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    Many of the features of the Salk Institute, designed by Louis Kahn for a seaside site in La Jolla, California, emerged from a dialogue between Kahn and Dr. Jonas Salk. The project's two laboratory buildings face each other across an open plaza.
    Photo: © Karen A. Franck Extra Large Image

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    The Salk Institute includes a private study for each principal scientist. These offices are clustered in multistory pods overlooking the plaza, separate from the main laboratory structures.
    Photo: © Karen A. Franck Extra Large Image

     

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