Briefing for Beginners
The article below appeared in the recently published Volume 11 of Mezzanine Magazine, published in Australia and distributed internationally. Marcus, Director of Baumgart Clark Architects, contributed this article to the magazine, providing some advice (help for design!) for residential clients, with some pointers about the process of briefing your architect.
If you would like to download the PDF of the spread from the magazine, you can do so here. We hope you enjoy.
Briefing for Beginners: Some Advice
In your residential project, to get the best results from your architect, you need to present them with a challenge, a puzzle of sorts, that calls on all of their skills in problem-solving and creativity. By ‘feeding’ your architect on a rich diet of your thoughts, insights and ideas about your project – no matter how odd, contradictions and all – you will give them the nourishment that they need to do their best work.
If that sounds a bit esoteric, let me simplify it for you. To instruct your architect, you need to give them what we call a ‘brief’. The brief is the summary of information that the architect will use to begin responding to your needs. The brief contains quantitative information – how many bedrooms, how many bathrooms, etc. – and qualitative information – for example, what you want the living room to feel like in winter when the fire is on, or that you like al-fresco dining in the warmer months.
The brief may be as simple as a short document listing the rooms you need, with some notes about what each room needs to do and contain. Or, it may be as complex and detailed as a you like, bringing in images from magazine cuttings, scanned pictures from books, snapshots or even a board full of pins on Pinterest, shared with your architect and their team.
You don’t have to be an expert
First-time clients might find the task of creating a brief a little intimidating, but with a few tips it can be made into a fun and enjoyable exercise, defining the creative problem in a way that your architect is trained to respond to. The good news is that you don’t have to be an expert, or even experienced at being a client, in order to create a great brief.
The first trick to briefing is to understand that your architect is trained to embrace complexity, and analyse large amounts of potentially contradictory information, simplifying and categorising as they go. Bringing order to chaos and giving things form is what the architect does, and learning this skill is a major part of their education.
As such, you don’t have to do those things when putting your brief together: the architect is ready and primed to do them for you. The implication of this is that when setting out your needs and desires, don’t censor yourself, or get bogged down in too much editing. Just get it all out, no matter how obscure. If it occurs to you to mention it, it is probably relevant.
Don’t worry about budget (at first!)
Don’t worry about what you can afford: the lightning bolt of reality will strike soon enough, and aspirations that are flagrantly unrealistic will wash out pretty quickly, with your architect’s help. Putting something down in writing doesn’t cost you a cent. As such, including ideas that you really like but which might be beyond what you think you can afford might lead to other insights and feed into the project in unexpected ways – another reason not to edit too much as you go.
In light of the above, you have licence to record anything and everything you want your architect to think about when designing your house or renovation. While this should encourage you to range widely, there is also virtue in bare simplicity: it can be equally challenging for your architect to work with a simple list of rooms. A skilled architect will draw out other things of importance – qualitative factors – in your conversations and interactions, both at the commencement of the project and as the design progresses.
Summing it all up
So here are the tips: don’t edit too much, don’t forget to record the basic facts and figures, and trust your architect and their team to bring order to the chaos that is the beginning of your, and indeed any, project. Start in this way and you will be on the path to a great result.
Questions to ask yourself when preparing the brief
- What are the non-negotiables: the must-haves?
- What would your house be like if money weren’t a consideration?
- In the past, what places or rooms have made you happy and comfortable?
- What little habits or rituals in your current house help you and your family enjoy life?
- How will you know that you and your architect have succeeded?