Many times, strained relationships between an architect and a client can be traced back to the brief. The brief sets the foundation for your interactions with each other and it is the source of information that is used for specifications that will dictate how the building is constructed. In this article, we discuss the pitfalls that can arise with these documents and how they can be avoided:

“A good brief, like any good document, is the foundation of success. In formulating a good brief, you empower your designer to do what they do best with the potential to deliver a project quite literally beyond your comprehension,” – Paul Hindes, Soul Space Building Designer

1. Not dedicating enough time to the brief preparation phase
Due to deadlines and projects that often need to be fast-tracked, there can be a failure to afford sufficient time to preparing the brief upfront. Skimping on this part of the process leads to misaligned goals and misunderstandings about the client’s objectives. When architectural solutions aren’t meeting the needs of a client, this can lead to expensive and complex rework. Avoiding this pitfall necessitates that clients are upfront about the time and effort that needs to go into articulating what a client is looking for.

2. Assuming your client knows how to give complete and comprehensive briefs
The design brief from a client states their requirements, budget, time constraints etc. to help an architect understand their expectations. Large firms are familiar with and equipped to provide a formal and comprehensive brief as part of a contract document, but it is possible that your clientele also includes individuals, small firms or groups of organisations. In this event, it is possible that you won’t receive a full and formal design brief or that they will meet with you to only briefly explain their goals and expect you to understand the rest. In a rush to seal the deal, younger architects avoid asking too many questions or preparing a detailed brief for fear of scaring the client off. This approach can do more harm than good because the chance of misunderstandings can vastly increase.

3. Clauses within the agreement
The clauses within the document often stipulate that a building can be constructed within a certain time period or budget, or that the design will meet the client’s requirements. While these clauses are in place to protect both parties, they can become problematic if certain parts of the brief are yet to be determined at the time when the agreement is signed. As an architect, you can’t commit to cost or design goals that are still unknown because you will run the risk of the client having unrealistic expectations. Avoid signing agreements until the brief is finalised.

4. Failing to provide feedback on briefs
When you receive a brief, the client is not only telling you what their goal and vision are, they are expecting your expertise and feedback in return. The contract that you devise based on the client brief assumes that the brief is perfect, but there can be flaws within the brief that can create problems for the design team later down the line. Be sure to point out any potential problems within the brief so that it can be ironed out before agreements are signed.

5. Inconsistencies in documents leading to wrong specifications
Specifications may change throughout the design and construction phase of a project. The slope of a roof or the height of steps, for example, may be recorded in separate drawings and specifications. When this information is edited, it can happen that not all of the documents are updated for consistency, which leads to uncertainty among builders on which documents to follow or they may not notice that discrepancies within the documents exist. To avoid this pitfall, create a workflow process that ensures all documents, drawings and specifications are updated when any information in the brief is altered.

6. Inconsistencies in terminology
Words and phrases can be interpreted differently depending on a person’s context or background. Stipulation that a contractor “must” build something in a certain way in one part of the document and then saying he “may” build in a way later in the document may lead the builder to believe that there is more leeway or flexibility about certain parts of the project when this may not have been the intention of the architect or specifier. Avoid using different words interchangeably and ensure consistent terminology throughout your documents to avoid confusion.

7. Taking direction from too many people
As most professionals in the built environment can attest to, having a single point of contact for decision making results in the best outcome. If there are multiple sources of authority, then you may end up taking direction from people who do not have authority to give direction, which means you won’t be able to meet the contractual obligations to your client.

Expert tip: Not dedicating enough time to the brief preparation phase leads to misaligned goals and misunderstandings about the client’s objectives.

Thanks and acknowledgement are given to www.sourceable.net, www.managearchitecture.com, www.ucl.ac.uk and www.archidatum.com for some of the information contained in this article.

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