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WORDS THAT BUILD: Offer an Opening Statement That Frames a Broad Vista
Tip #20: The aim of an opening statement is to open a door to dialogue rather than to persuasively "hook" another into compliance with your message.
By Norman Weinstein
November 3, 2009
Editor’s Note: This is the 20th in an exclusive series by Norman Weinstein focusing on the overlooked foundations of architecture: oral and written communication.
Suppose that the thousands of teachers of business communication who advise that the purpose of an opening remark or sentence is to “hook” someone’s interest are all wrong? Perhaps I’m contradicting myself by opening this column with a dubious assertion to “hook” your curiosity – but bear with me for a moment.
This column is really about what you can learn about opening a flow of communication with others through the study of the architecture of Zanzibar, that island off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, awash with Arabic and Indian aesthetics.
My safe bet is that you are now experiencing the architecture of Zanzibar as a more promising opening to my column – more exotic – than my original opening about a questionable strategy of business communication teachers. And even though Zanzibar’s architecture might be too exotic for you to spend time reading about if your practice is on the verge of financial collapse, let me assure you that my real beginning – after two intentional diversions – concerns how buildings in Zanzibar were designed starting with the front door frame.
Now, what does it mean to discover a venerable vernacular architectural heritage that doesn’t design with the foundation in mind first? Or a tradition quite counter to Frank Lloyd Wright’s perspective that he designed from the roof down? Why begin with a door frame?
Suppose you assume that all architectural design entails particular framings of spaces that are negotiated over time between architects and other stakeholders (owners, contractors, building inspectors, etc.), all conditioned by a particular site and climate. Gaston Bachelard in his The Poetics of Space sees that
. . .a mere door, can give images of hesitation, temptation, desire, security, welcome and respect. If one were to give an account of all the doors one has closed and opened, of all the doors one would like to re-open, one would have to tell the story of one’s life.
Note the sequence of images Bachelard identifies with a door. A door is not designed to “hook” someone to enter, or for a building owner to open and close a door thoughtlessly. Doors frame the experience of architecture. And so does any architect’s opening words to a stakeholder because all architectural communication has within it hesitation. How much can you trust your clients and visa versa? This demands hesitation rather than pure impulse. The necessities of earning a living introduce a temptation to assume trust and compatibility where there might not be reasons for such. For any creative architect, there is the desire to create a project that more than fulfills client desires. And both clients and architects are forever hungry for feelings of security and respect. We all hope, after a project is complete, that we are welcomed into additional discussion about the outcome.
open-ended questions are often ideal openings for architects because
questions open doors to the complex nuances of materials, schedule, and budget.
But just as importantly, opening with questions shows willingness at the
threshold of a new relationship to consider a multitude of ways to frame
apportioning space. Starting with a door can then lead to building a work
relationship characterized by mutual respect.
To update the image of ancient Zanzibar architecture starting with a door, perhaps the 21st-century door that suggests a similar key of design primacy for a “mere” door is the energy-generating revolving door at the Natuurcafé La Port in the Netherlands, designed by RAU and built by Boon Edam. Like an architect’s cogently framed query in writing or conversation, it generates energy by putting a new “spin” on perception.
Persuasion is always a major component of architectural communication – but begin with the invitation a door proposes.
Norman Weinstein writes about architecture and design for Architectural Record and The Christian Science Monitor. He consults with architects and engineers interested in communicating more profitably. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also by this author:
Op-Ed: Life After Ada: Reassessing the Utility of
WORDS THAT BUILD:
Communicate to Clients an Evolving Perspective Rather than a Fixed Clarity
WORDS THAT BUILD: Introduce Words that "Float"
into the Flow of Communications with Clients
WORDS THAT BUILD: Work with Clients to Develop Plans That
Place Human/Spatial Relationships First
WORDS THAT BUILD: Faster! Deeper! Broader!
WORDS THAT BUILD: Translate Images Into Touching
WORDS THAT BUILD: Emphasize Words with Lasting Resonance
THAT BUILD: Re-invent Green Communication
THAT BUILD: Taking Advantage of Interruptions in Architectural Communication
THAT BUILD: Faceting Architectural Communication
THAT BUILD: Use Space Creatively When Designing Your Client Communications
WORDS THAT BUILD: Making Your Client's Contradictions
WORDS THAT BUILD: Initiate Conversations with Designs
that Engage Your Clients
WORDS THAT BUILD: Creating a Site Analysis That's Out of
THAT BUILD: Learning How to Persuade Through Learning Variations on a Theme
THAT BUILD: Respecting Key Words as Materials for Building Durable Structures
THAT BUILD: Steering Your Client in the Appropriate Direction
THAT BUILD: Playing with the Flow of Communication
THAT BUILD: Clarifying Presentations to Clients through Rhythmic Emphasis
THAT BUILD: Coping with chaotic communication challenges
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(click on pictures to enlarge)
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