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Naomi FisherDirector | Architect
‘You mean YOU, the architects, do the consultation?’


This wasn’t a question that I was expecting as I opened the floor to the audience, yet this question, albeit phrased in different ways, was the most frequently asked of me throughout the ‘Fit for Function 2’ Conference last month. One person posing the question was an architect himself who subsequently enquired if I ‘really’ did that, referring to the photograph of when I’d stood outside a village supermarket on a Saturday morning talking to the local community about the area’s needs. 


My immediate reaction was to think, ‘Do other architects really NOT do this?’

APEC engaging with a community outside their local supermarket to inform the brief writing process.

In my talk entitled ‘Working with An Architect’, I had set out what to expect of your architect, as well as giving an overview of the design and construction process, with particular emphasis on the feasibility study, which, in my practice is the foundation of any successful development project. In my short talk, I impressed upon my audience the importance of client organisations giving their architects a challenge, not a solution. I illustrated an example of how the process of unpicking a client’s need, rather than slavishly designing to a pre-prescribed brief, could result in a better, more sustainable and more cost-effective solution. Central to this interrogation is to engage with and, in particular, to listen to the experts; the end users. 
This approach is founded on a long history in the practice of gaining a deep understanding of the brief, and immersing ourselves as architects in the organisations with whom we work, and in the communities in which they operate. Such an approach has, over the history of the practice, ensured that the resulting briefs are well-founded and viable, and the process has even led to unlocking the viability of a vision through identifying complementary partnerships. The cliche of 1+1= 3 unashamedly applies.  
Developing the ways in which we successfully engender community participation (engagement is no longer ‘the word’) has happened organically in the practice over the years. It is, however, something we have rarely reflected upon in any structured or measured way, until now. Holly’s Learning Marathon poses the question:

‘How might community participation and empowerment become the norm for creating spaces and places?’


I can’t wait to see the results very soon. In the meantime, I’ll carry on evangelising about the value of architects placing themselves firmly in the consultation process. Only then, can we design to a brief that we genuinely believe is right.

Held in the stunning surroundings of Leominster Priory, the Fit for Function 2 Conference was aimed mainly at church groups to provide specific guidance on embarking on capital projects. It was organised cross denomination by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham and the Anglican Dioceses of Hereford, Lichfield and Worcester.