Architects and Builders Speak Different Languages

Many are familiar with Dr. John Gray’s theory that Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus — the examination of the distinctive and intrinsic differences between the sexes. Men are, as a population, characterized by a propensity toward organization and detail, while women are considered intuitive and more feeling.

Just like men and women, architects and builders inherently speak a different language, and it is due in no small part to their respective right brain/left brain abilities. It’s the Ying/Yang of this industry and requires a reaching-out across the aisle for an understanding of the other’s expectations and motivations. We need to learn to get along and appreciate our differences.

Distinctive approaches to problem solving are inherent to each of these two very different professional types. Architects by nature bring creativity and a vision of the big picture. Construction types see most things in black and white, and require specificity.

Basically we all need a big dose of Dr. Gray’s Emotional Intelligence to recognize, empathize and deal with the differences. It’s almost comical to witness the level of miscommunication and misunderstandings that can occur when these two groups are communicating. Both sides need to make the monumental effort of playing nice and giving the other person the benefit of possessing good sense because ultimately it’s the project and client that suffer.

For our case in point, we’ll typify the design entity as the architect, and the interior designer who is most concerned with creative vision rather than detail and how it ultimately would be put together. They are looking at the big picture — the end results — rather than the many steps required to get from here to there. At the risk of being politically incorrect, it’s the feminine nature, found in both genders, that is intuitive and creative, more fluid and less specific. This creative type may leave a lot of the design open to interpretation, yet not welcome anyone’s comments as to deficiencies or ambiguity.

On the other hand, we have the prototypical construction person who seeks precision and relates to numbers, quantifying all the pieces of the puzzle. Builders are not interested in, nor are typically capable of, interpreting the architect’s design, but want instead to be provided with detailed instructions of what to do so they can put their hands and resources to work.

Most often architects and builders don’t talk the same language nor understand one another. Architects tend to think builders are too dense when it comes to aesthetics. Builders think architects are prima donnas for making changes when something works just fine as it is. They stand at opposing ends of the team spectrum, and finger-pointing and name-calling can result.

It is important then that the architect makes a huge effort to properly and carefully delineate construction details. One solution might be to hire someone within the organization to take charge of the nuts and bolts of the job, becoming a reliable liaison that can talk the same language and relate to the people in the construction field.

Similarly, the construction group needs to have a good attitude about the design group and realize that everyone seeks to be on the same page. The builder needs to understand that while there may be some things that could have been communicated better, that ultimately it is the nature of the business. A good construction team should be able to pinpoint gaps in a set of specs and plans, and have systems for getting the information, instead of interpreting what Mr. or Ms. Right Brain was thinking.

I obviously exaggerate my points. Fortunately, we are in an era of awareness, and we recognize our differences seeking internal change and personal accountability. In an ideal world, an architect would produce a faultless set of drawings and specifications, and the construction team would happily follow the plans to perfection. Unfortunately, this world doesn’t exist, particularly in the field of residential architecture.

This is why as professionals, it is important to put aside our differences and learn to speak each other’s language, focusing on the successful end result for the project and ultimately for the end user. In this way, the whole team benefits from an enjoyable process and a well-conceived, well-executed project.