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Kirk’s Paradigm says, for a great project you’ve gotta have the right owner, the right program, the right site, the right budget, the right contractor, and the right architect. If one of these is missing, the whole project can suffer for it. If you can get all six things to come together, then you have an opportunity to make something great.

To kick it off: Gotta Have the Right Owner!

The nature of good design is in not presuming the answer at the beginning of the process. Design is an iterative process that evolves after a period of inquiry, dialogue, and information gathering. Possible solutions are tested, refined, erased, recombined, prototyped, and tested again. The beginning of the design process can feel uncertain even frenetic as ideas are “tried on for size” then refined or discarded. If the end product is known or presumed, then design and innovation have little hope. The critical role of the Owner is to trust that the process with the Right Architect (more on that later) will arrive at the optimal solution.

The “right” owner is the project’s advocate, the anchor for the WHY are we doing this? WHY are we investing precious time and human resources in this project? Great owners can articulate a mission statement that says what the organization does and why they do it. The Right Owner is engaged in a meaningful endeavor, be it raising a family, teaching children, building community, staging theatrical events, gathering for worship, or serving awesome food. The Right Owner is driven by the optimism that the future holds an as yet unknown solution that can be found through the design process.

Architects refer to their clients as “Owners”. Owner is a good word. The owner, be it an individual, committee or board acting as a fiduciary for the end-user, “owns” the possibilities and liabilities of the project for the long term. By comparison, architects are engaged for a brief but formative season in the life of a building, shepherding the Owner through the design and construction process. The Right Owner can dream a little (or a lot), has faith in the power of good design, and allows the design process to unveil the best response.

For those who find the design process to be unfamiliar territory it is our task, as architects, to develop trust in small steps. Fostering relationships that lead to meaningful dialogue with owners will help frame a mission and vision for desired outcomes. New information or changes in the project requirements will often present opportunities to test and improve the design. With a strong Architect/Owner foundation, solutions are adapted and developed, increasing the Owner’s confidence in the design process.

In the Netflix original series The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes, there is a scene where an architect voices over panoramic video of a beautiful house in a remote desert location and says “There is always a moment when you feel fear. It’s our role. We are Architects.”

The answer to fear is trusting the design process to lead to a beautiful solution as we step into the unknown.

Read Part II: Gotta Have the RIGHT PROGRAM

Kirk’s Paradigm is brought to you by Principal and project architect, Scott Simmons.