Are you a great client?

Posted: November 15, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

“It is a fact of great architecture that all great buildings have a great architect, but they also have a great client.  The client who is understanding, but also very demanding.” — Allan Greenburg, from the PBS special Benjamin Latrobe: America’s First Architect.

I happened to catch the fascinating Benjamin Latrobe special a couple of months ago (you can still find the entire show at  Some of the best architecture of our nation’s capitol was designed by Latrobe, but the opportunity for even greater architecture was thwarted by a client (President Monroe and Congress) who didn’t understand.  Earlier, Thomas Jefferson, a client who obviously understood architecture, pushed Latrobe to the greatness for which he is known (at least by architectural historians).

There is a similar correlation in creating great public spaces.  It isn’t enough to hire a great landscape architect.  The client needs to understand design issues.  The client needs to understand human behavior.  The client needs to understand value and not just cost.   If the designer and the client both understand the important issues of creating public spaces, the likelihood of creating a great public space increases tremendously.

What are the issues?  I’ve been talking about some of them for several months, but the Project for Public Space has identified four core qualities necessary for a successful public space.

First, the space must be accessible, and not just in the ADA sense.  The space must be easy to get to and easy to move around in.  Second, it must have activities.  Things for people to do, a reason to go to the space.  The space must be comfortable and inviting.  Not just physically, but psychologically.  As we’ve talked about before, the perception of safety is a big part of this. There needs to be a certain level of sociability.  A successful public space is where you to go to meet friends or simply be around other people.

Of course its easy to say that a public space must have these qualities, but it is much more difficult to address the specific challenges of each space’s geographic, contextual and demographic issues.  It’s not just a matter of selecting attractive benches or designing a grand water feature.  There are complex issues of human psychology and behavior.  In a future post, I’ll break down these four core qualities and look at them more closely.

Of course the project designer should know all of this.  If the client also understands the issues and pushes the designer, a great public space might be the result.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s