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Communication Breakdown // Jack Booton


In any endeavor, clear communication is the key to success.

There...I said it. The eternal proverb of public speakers everywhere. Too many times we have heard professionals summarize the quality of their work through “clear communication.” It obviously holds some value, but what does this actually mean for a group of twelve graduate architecture students at Kansas State University? Students who are literally isolated from their professors, clients, consultants, contractors; the people who help make things happen? Proximal resources are used to the best of our abilities, but the crux of our success comes from collaboration with a host of other parties. Who are these people and how do we interface with them? The challenge is to adapt our communication methods for both internal and external audiences.

Internal Audiences

In order to get things built and or implemented, you must understand the people involved and how to deal with them. As a studio, we make it our job to establish relationships with representative clients, consultants, and contractors from day one. Talking to real stakeholders ignites a vitality and investment that would otherwise be absent. But remember, these fine people have lives of their own, and face-to-face conversations are precious. Not to mention that we attend school two hours away from our mentors at el dorado inc. in Kansas City. Because of this, we quickly realized the importance of any and all scheduled meetings.


The transient nature of these relationships require a careful approach. When physical interaction is not an option, we utilize the internet. E-mail and web-based project management platforms enable cross-disciplinary collaboration. Weekly presentations and deliverables remind us that we are only as good as our worst images. In other words, a high level of graphic and visual clarity is necessary to effectively illustrate our ideas.


No excuses. Our professor can’t always shuffle through mountains of trace paper and chipboard models. Instead, the work speaks for itself. Instead of asking ourselves, “What information do I need to convey?” we pose, “What questions do I want my audience to ask?


Where these requirements get tricky, however, is when dealing with unfamiliar concentrations and stages of design. As an outsider, some conversations could use subtitles. At length, and if listening for comprehension, one can piece together the relevant information. Knowing when to speak and when not to is an invaluable skill. So, we remember a few general things: The client knows more about the program than we do. The consultant knows more about systems than we do. The contractor knows more about construction than we do. We enter the world of each discipline, then lead the process, because ultimately: as architects, we know more about the collective process than the client, consultant or contractor.

External Audiences

In the Spring semester, ADS VIII curriculum outlines the expectation of students to “develop the communication skills required in architectural practice.” What better an environment to do this than in a real architectural practice? Seems like a no-brainer, but traditionally, these skills are addressed within purely academic parameters. There are two or three major critiques that typically feature presentation boards, theoretical drawings, thesis papers, etc. However, like many aspects of design+make studio, this understanding of communication is put to the test. It is a word used with such regularity and ambiguity; our studio aims to dissect its varying definitions and make sense of its true importance.


We again look to the world wide web as a way to reach larger audiences. The redevelopment of the design+make website creates a space for virtually anyone to see our work. A presence in social media via Facebook gives us an informal platform to share our progress. Where visual identity can influence our reputation, we strive to make a good impression.


Written by Jack Booton

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