Alex Coppock

What does good client-architect communication look like?

by 14th Jul, 2017

This piece was originally written for a resource kit developed by Hereford Diocese and due for publication in November 2017 called Crossing the Threshold: a community development approach to the use of church buildings toolkit. The toolkit is an updated version of a publication originally published in 2005 and updated in 2013 – you can download the current version here.

What does an ideal brief from a church to an architect look like?

At the initial stages of a project, it’s best to have a concise brief. Think about providing no more than two sides of A4 covering your overall vision for the project, what you’re looking to achieve, any known problems or concerns and a little bit of background on how you have got to where you are now. The brief should also include some information on the church (a summary of the statement of Significance is ideal), a site plan and some photos. You can also signpost your architect to any sources of additional information they might find useful.

How does the discussion between the church and the architect begin?

At Communion we review a brief then arrange a phone conversation with our point of contact at the church. During this conversation we are looking to ‘test the principle’ – assess whether the project is feasible technically, legally and financially. If one or more of these factors doesn’t look feasible, we will offer some direction and suggest ways to rethink the project before going any further. If all three look viable we will suggest a site visit and a workshop. We ask that representatives of all stakeholders are present at the workshop because it ensures we can get a holistic vision of the project and understand all viewpoints. It is also a good way for the church and the community to start to share and develop plans.

How does communication work in general between the church and the architect?

At the start of a project, communication is generally strategic and administrative – arranging meeting dates and so on. As the project develops, so the volume of communication increases. By the time the project reaches site, you can expect at least daily communication. We find it works best when the church has a single point of contact either throughout the life of project or for each stage. However, it is vital that the point of contact is working hand-in-hand with the church leaders to ensure the decisions made are collective ones.

How is it best to deal with any issues that arise – concerns over the cost of the project, for example?

The issue of cost is the biggest issue a church re-ordering project will face and we test it from day one. Quite simply, your vision for your project and your vision for your budget must align or there is no point proceeding. Or, to think about it another way, you need to have a fixed budget and a flexible project or a fixed project and a flexible budget.

It is impossible to give an accurate figure for the cost of a church re-ordering project at the beginning, only an estimated sum based on knowledge and experience. The cost becomes better defined as the project develops and it is important to have regular cost assessments and discussions throughout the process to ensure the design and the costs are both still in alignment. Generally speaking, by the time the project has come back from tender and a building contractor has been appointed, there will be much more certainty. Adjustments will still be required but these can usually be held within an agreed contingency figure.