Top 3 Words to Avoid When Talking Shop with Architects

We are working in Cochin and sometimes I feel like I am speaking two different languages. I’m not talking about struggling with mixing English and Malayalam. I’m not talking about scratching my head each time I encounter an Indian head shake/nod (“Wait- was that a yes or a no?”). I’m talking about the client’s language vs. the architect’s language.

This internship really is a “living laboratory.” I am getting a chance to sit on the client side and discuss ideas with the architects that will push Raxa Collective’s vision forward. Crist and Amie have worked with the design team side by side on each project and I am starting to understand how they think, how to make sure my drawings, renderings, and presentations can be clearer, and more. Sitting in on these design meetings in which the architect and clients discuss, propose, discuss, present, discuss, discuss, and discuss some more, I realize…

It’s like talking shop at an auto repair.

“We can’t let them know we don’t know what we’re doing or he’ll just rip us off,” my friend warned me when we brought his car in to be fixed. The moment you say one word that gives you away… you’ve just shot yourself in the foot.

Wanna talk shop with [landscape/interior/etc…] architects? Here are my top 3 words to avoid and 3 words to say instead!

1. Calling it a “bush” instead of a “shrub”

Evidently the quickest way to irk a landscape architect. Rania, the landscape architecture intern, first corrected me when I said “that looks like tea bushes.” I haven’t made that mistake again… I think I see it now.

This is a bush.

This is what I imagine Rania thought of when I called it a “tea bush.”

No bushes here.

Not a single bush here. Just a bus, a few trees, and acres of tea shrubs. (Photo by Karen Chi-Chi Lin at Munnar, India)

2. Asking about “material” instead of “materiality”

Asking about the material can stunt creativity. False wood printed MDF veneers for a drop ceiling? Once that is in your mind, you won’t be able to move away from what you already know.

Instead, address the REAL question: what is the materiality we’re trying to accomplish? Materiality asks how it feels to touch, to see, to smell, to whatever… What color? What opacity? All these tactile and visual aspects about the material that won’t come up in conversation if you simply ask “so what material is it?”


These are materials… except for Jellyfish and Toon (not too sure what those are).

Sexy materiality

Sexy materiality. We got some play on opacity action going on, we have light, we have all that it takes to create a veil-like materiality. (Photograph of Swarovski’s installation in Austria)

3. Brainstorming with “doodles” instead of “sketches”

Doodling is fun, but sketching is powerful. Ask for a sketch and what you’re really asking for is a visual representation of critically thought about ideas and solutions.


Doodling some very important information about hair during class. I regret to confirm that these notes are actually mine.

Plan of Le Corbusier's worker housing at Pessac

A plan of Le Corbusier’s worker housing at Pessac and diagrams from 3 different students. (Read more about “Indexing visual databases of designs with diagrams” by Mark D. Gross)

So that’s it– my top 3 that I’ve picked up from this internship!

I hope this will spark creativity. Sometimes, just the simple change of a word can change the perspective on what it really is and what it could be.

And on the flipside, I’d like to know what words do you think we architects/designers can avoid using when presenting to clients?

3 thoughts on “Top 3 Words to Avoid When Talking Shop with Architects

  1. Pingback: 5 Words to Update to “Fake It ’till You Make It” at Architecture Meetings « Sunnyace Reblog Collections

  2. Pingback: Engineering a Conversation « Raxa Collective

  3. Pingback: Architect As Educator « Raxa Collective

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