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You’ve told me what you want - but you haven’t told me what you don’t want

Education By Adrian Roche, Partner, Building Services – 29 November 2021

A blue fridge magnet of a question mark next to the words 'lateral thinking' also in blue, against a pink background


Adrian Roche with building behind with London bus reflection

Adrian Roche

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About five years ago, I was coming towards the end of an interview for the design of a significant new university building in the UK, and was asked the classic “do you have any questions?”

I noted that clients’ briefs tended to be written around a list of requirements and a formal confirmation as to what was required. By applying some lateral thinking, I flipped the question around by saying “You’ve told me what you want but you haven’t told me what you don’t want?” The suggestion being that buildings can be created which, whilst complying with the brief, can miss opportunities to learn from previous campus buildings which had fallen short – and which could be improved on.

For those who can recall the Monty Python sketch which asked ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’, what followed was some invaluable suggestions and interaction as the team came together in an informal but highly collaborative way.

With this injection of humour, the room came together as a team, and realised we could ENJOY working together on the project for the next couple of years.

We ended the meeting with each side having a better common understanding that if we were to work together then we needed to create a building that would not have x, y and z. It was interesting to see how the room came together as most had a gripe or a suggestion about a previous project that they would prefer was not repeated but which hadn't been included on the brief.

I’m delighted to say that our client is thrilled with the outcome and the awards that followed.

I have since used this approach several times - particularly for large estate clients and defence base projects. It has proved highly effective in promoting understanding and effective collaboration between stakeholders.