Architect: yes and no. How to choose the right professional.

Landscape architect changing drawing at meeting with client

More than ten years ago, we moved our atelier from Italy to Switzerland. Soon we learned that the Swiss are very much attracted by Italian art, much more than we had had the chance to see previously as visitors.

We could see the interest of the most requiring among our would-be clients. However, when they look for guidance and support in creating an environment that represents them, making sure it brings all the comfort they desire, owners of luxury real estate turn to consultants such as architects and interior designers.

In planning for its headquarters and office space, a business thinks of its brand; the environment must correspond to the brand, make a positive impression in its clients and partners, and possibly consolidate its image – maybe even help making it grow.

A private person’s targets are similar; moreover, he wants to fulfil his needs of beauty, pleasantness and uniqueness.

A common factor is that the professional is equal to the role and the confidence he is entrusted by his clients; he must know how to support his clients in establishing and maintaining the status they have acquired in their own social milieu.

In choosing to build one’s own house, all choices are important. To the top-level clients, a house is not just a warm place to sleep. It is self-expression, it tells who they are, what they were capable of achieving.

To these clients, receiving at home is not the same as hosting at their club, or in a public place. Each of these places “talks” about the host; but home is the place that says the most. Guests enter into the host’s life; they get to know him, see him alike to or different from themselves.

All of this goes through a visual language, made of choices of objects, styles, combinations, colours, materials, shapes. Very few clients can manage this on their own: conversely, according to our specific experience, they have a vague idea of what they want, try to explain themselves by examples and analogies; because they do not master the visual language themselves.

The right consultant for such a client is someone who can receive both explicit and unexpressed requests, and transpose them in concrete, valid proposals. To use Socrates’ metaphor, he acts like a mid-wife, helping the client giving birth, not to a child in this case, but to an idea made of shapes, colours, matter: that is, the house especially for that client and no one else.

Doing this takes skills such as personal sensitivity, an outstanding communication capability, a solid professional education, an international culture, knowledge of the past and of predecessors, flair for innovation, a good pinch of self-confidence, and the ability to dig up solutions that join elegance, exclusivity, uniqueness and – where needed – usefulness.

It also takes thinking out of the box, moving out of the comfort area in which everything is granted, tried, and quite often fashion.

Not just anyone is able to take risks boldly, and offer new solutions that are creative and stand away from any possible tedious standard taste.

However, a demanding client, wishing to pick the very best and to make this evident, has little choice: he must choose a “special” consultant.

Standing Out and Asserting Own Personality

Anyone who wishes to display in their home an object, a decoration or an artwork that is unique, precious and luxurious, must search the help of a consultant with a solid knowledge of materials and opportunities, and at the same time totally outside the box.

He must thereafter trust the consultant and follow his indications.

What would have happened, if professionals such as Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Carlo Scarpa, Gio Ponti had not been given full trust?

Their work would have certainly gone unnoticed; it would have hardly stood any chance of being part of the history of architecture and design.

Let us briefly mention a few masterpieces of architecture and design in Switzerland, real jewels belonging to the historic patrimony of humanity:

  • Le Corbusier’s Villa Jeanneret-Perret –la Maison Blanche– at La Chaux-de-Fonds;
  • Konrad von Muralt’s Villa Seerose at Horgen;
  • Otto Zollinger’s Villa Streiff at Goldbach-Küsnacht;
  • Carlo Scarpa’s redesign of Villa Zentner in Zurich.

Breaking free from pattern can be somewhat of a gamble; but the result will never appear banal, granted, and common.

Saving is not a valid option.

Several years ago, as we were still living in Italy, we were requested to plan for a mosaic decoration in a public environment, over 30 sq. mt. in size.

The client objected to the budget we proposed, believed it to be too high.

Together with his architect, they decided for a cheaper offering.

Years later, we still hear of complaints for the non-optimal choice of materials, the inappropriate visual result, and the instability of the whole work.

The public did not approve, the artwork repels visitors and has failed its purpose of driving more visitors to the place.

A foreseen fiasco.

The owner of a house, who wishes for an exclusive visual experience, must be prepared to invest what it takes to acquire it. Saving money is not something that must enter into the balance of the decision.

A high price is not in itself a guarantee of a high value. The opposite is always true: things that have a high intrinsic value, invariably come at a high price.

Finding out and asking questions is not offensive.

Choosing the appropriate professional is often a difficult path.

In the evaluation, one must consider the person’s CV, reference, and anything about the person’s previous activity which may have appeared in print. However, this is often not enough.

It is common experience that a person, boasting flawless reference and curriculum, face-to-face can turn out to be unbearable, and there is no way to establish a relationship.

The ideal person must be prepared to meet the client, listen to him and his needs; he must be open to discussion and debate. It is essential that such elements are not underestimated.

It is legitimate to ask what materials does the professional suggest, how is their quality guaranteed, what is their origin, impact on health and environment, durability. These elements must be part of the evaluation, founded on the professional’s direct experience or documented appropriately.

It may be that a professional shows signs of unease or looks bothered, when asked direct questions on technical issues; this is generally a bad sign. A client has the right to ask, as long as he does so with discretion and respect.

Surely, a professional who skirts questions and confrontation is not the person we want to work with.

Modesty is a sign of greatness and moral worth, and hubris is never a good thing. Let us state this out clear: the client is making a double investment, on one side a relevant sum of money is on stake, but on the other his emotions, dreams, wishes are also involved. It is wise that a consultant is open for discussion.

Reciprocal respect, openness and clarity of intent, make the perfect combination.

The key word is value

Obtaining professional support to achieve the object, design or decoration of your dreams implies almost invariably a relevant investment. Therefore it is worth turning towards a choice of top value, offering the required guarantee of uniqueness and durability, as well as beauty, elegance and harmony.

Whom will you entrust your next dream project to?