Home    Site Search   Contact Us     Subscribe



WORDS THAT BUILD: Faceting Architectural Communication

Tip #11: Effective communication evolves out of cross-reflective details.

By Norman Weinstein
February 3, 2009

Editor’s note: This is the 11th in an exclusive series by Norman Weinstein focusing on the overlooked foundation of architecture: oral and written communication.


Examining diamonds under magnification should be a required assignment in architecture schools – but not to cultivate consumer lust for costly baubles emergent architects can ill afford. The goal would be to understand the nature of faceting, that exacting process of cutting and polishing faces of a diamond so that light entering it from its crown brilliantly ricochets among facets. A diamond’s brightness is a consequence of a gem cutter’s understanding of the necessary placement of facets to best keep light buoyantly dancing under our gaze.


Stay with me as we move from diamond faceting to speaking and writing about architecture for clients.


The quantity and quality of details in architectural communication can never be simply prescriptive. You’ll have clients ranging from the obsessively persnickety about minute details to the dreamily vague who demand few. Spoken and written communication demands constant fine-tuning to accommodate a constantly changing client appetite for details. This is made more complex when your “client” is a committee. In order to maintain your sanity, profitability, and professionalism, you need to give that quantity of detail that comprehensively explains your design in terms of utility, beauty, cost, schedule, code, environmental considerations (LEED or non-LEED track), etc.


Quality of detail is equally vital – particularly energizing detail. Here’s an example of non-energizing details from a major architectural firm’s description of an arts center designed for a small liberal arts college


The program for the building balances the specific requirements of the traditional visual arts disciplines with a more progressive attitude toward interdisciplinary collaboration and the unifying potential of digital media and energizing technologies . . .The design reflects a synthesis of the program’s complex and varied spatial requirements, forming essentially a light industrial building with a dense overlay of systems.


There’s charged marketing language in the adding-up of “specific requirements,” “progressive attitude,” and “unifying potential of digital media” – all ways to hint at an architectural design that meets the needs of sophisticated clients. Then – voila! – the building design is a “synthesis” of systems – though what architecture isn’t? The few details given are vague and static. These details are devoid of intellectual and emotional energy. A description demands acceleration toward a detailed, compelling design description. Here’s an alternative, with energizing words italicized:


This art center’s program invites art students and faculty, whether using traditional art supplies or new high-tech tools, to exercise their creativity within its luminous and adaptable spaces. The center’s systems interrelate in a fashion comparable to a diamond’s facets. For example . . .


This re-write is an invitation to an inspiring space where your creativity can be incubated by virtue of the design’s adaptability and engaging use of natural light. This is a preliminary first layer of detail. Like art, the art building will invite dwelling for the purpose of exercising imagination, is luminous and adaptable, as changeable as an artist’s inspiration – all words interrelating to build a total design impression. Depending on the quantity and quality of detailing needed with particular clients, you can persuasively present increasingly specific details. These add up to a lengthy design overview, specifications, budget, schedule, etc. (“facets” of the same “diamond” design you’re presenting). The first few details, hinting at a multi-purpose arts center embodying diamond-like brilliance and clarity, create a foundation for incremental technical detailing. They motivate clients to stay attentive in order to catch a deep and wide perspective.


To paraphrase the poet Ezra Pound, any written document you craft for clients “should turn into a ball of light in one’s hands,” with key details reflecting off one another. Or to paraphrase May West, “Diamonds are an architect’s best friend.”



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: 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.


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