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WORDS THAT BUILD: Use Space Creatively When Designing Your Client Communications

Tip #10: Use paragraph spacing in writing and pauses in conversation to promote "out of the box" thinking.

By Norman Weinstein
January 8, 2009

Editor’s note: This is the tenth in an exclusive series by Norman Weinstein focusing on the overlooked foundation of architecture: oral and written communication.



You’re in the business of designing plans for clients that shape spaces. These designs suggest scenarios for moving through as well as being still in space. You need to suggest that your articulation of architectural space is beautiful, useful, and durable – or Vitruvius lived in vain. And you hope that your unique design of architectural space is superior to that of other designers – or your income aspirations will be in vain. But English, as commonly spoken and written internationally, has limited means to elucidate empty space.



I just demonstrated one technique to clarify empty space. I doubled the space between this and the preceding paragraph, which you may have read as a gaffe, and likely mentally readjusted your scanning of this text to where the next paragraph should have appeared. But try for a moment to accept my spacing as a serious intention. Suppose I not only wanted you to take a longer than normal pause before I launched into a new paragraph, but also wanted you to contemplate whiteness as a potentially fertile space between thoughts. My temptation was to rush into a quick summative explanation of how Buddhism and Taoism, among Asian philosophies and religions, have an extensive vocabulary signifying qualities of empty space that American English lacks. That would be persuading you intellectually that empty space has a noble intellectual lineage once you shift your Western cultural frame of reference. But I wanted you to have an immediate experience of a deep empty moment in communication that was intentional: a designed space to invite your puzzlement, or rational processing, or ???


A page, like a building, can be conceptualized as a blank space to be filled maximally with meaning. One of the problems with the “Fill-er-up” model in architect-client communication is that it turns the architect into an exhaustively authoritative explainer and the client into either a willing sponge or an annoying contrarian – or an erratic mix of both. The goal has always been a lively, respectful, and ideally, co-creational exchange of ideas between yourself and your clients, whatever personality failings all parties possess.


One powerful tool for better architect-client communication comes through a novel use of paragraphing and pauses. Temporarily put aside the grade school definition of a paragraph as a self-contained explanation of a single idea. Instead, think of a paragraph as an architectural space, a site where you’re going to plan a structure where meaningful experiences will gradually unfold. A paragraph is part of an initial design sketch of a flexible, multi-purpose structure for intensely purposeful and reflective living.


A paragraph might be two sentences or an entire page in length, whatever space is required for certain types of meaningful experiences to be considered. Like an initial design sketch, your purpose is not to exhaustively illustrate a single concept as much as it is to capture the energy of ideas in motion. You would want your design intent to have intentional gaps, white spaces, or what literary sleuths like to call “pregnant pauses.” Your writing needs plentiful opportunities to encourage your client to absorb and digest the experience of your thinking.


In addition to intentional doubling-spacing, take a clue from poets and try










To think “outside of the box,” stop writing boxy letters, brochures, and websites, and let your words move as dynamically as a freely sketched line. Treat words as building blocks that compose paragraphs – and spaces between paragraphs as contributing meanings of their own kind, establishing a design foundation. These sage lines by the ancient Taoist teacher Lao Tzu, translated into lyrical English by the poet Thomas Meyer in daode jing (otherwise known as Tao Te Ching), gracefully express this understanding in terms architects can appreciate:


                        thirty spokes share one hub

                        but empty space makes the wheel practical

                        kneading clay creates a bowl

                        but empty space makes the bowl useful


                        hacking out a door or window builds a room

                        but empty space makes the room work


                        so that what is there has value

                        but what is not is the tool



Norman Weinstein writes about architecture and design for The Christian Science Monitor and teaches communication strategies to architects. He can be reached at


See also:


WORDS THAT BUILD: Making Your Client's Contradictions Productive
Tip #9
: Work with your clients' contradictions to discover possible solutions.


WORDS THAT BUILD: Initiate Conversations with Designs that Engage Your Clients
Tip #8: Write dialogues engaging materials and processes with clients.


WORDS THAT BUILD: Creating a Site Analysis That's Out of Sight
Tip #7: Write a site analysis using words referring to senses beyond sight.


WORDS THAT BUILD: Learning How to Persuade Through Learning Variations on a Theme
Tip #6: Master a communications tool that generates copious variations on your theme.


WORDS THAT BUILD: Respecting Key Words as Materials for Building Durable Structures
Tip #5: Recognize the key vocabulary shaping your professional practice and share those keywords with your clients.


WORDS THAT BUILD: Steering Your Client in the Appropriate Direction
Tip #4: See your writing as a navigational aid so your design intent clearly comes through to your client.


WORDS THAT BUILD: Playing with the Flow of Communication
Tip #3: Use language that playfully enhances the flow of design intentions between you and your client.


WORDS THAT BUILD: Clarifying Presentations to Clients through Rhythmic Emphasis
Tip #2: Use rhythmic accents to create a persuasive story to your client.


WORDS THAT BUILD: Coping with chaotic communication challenges
Tip #1: Learn to enjoy communicating with your client.


(click on pictures to enlarge)


© 2009