From DWELL magazine - 10/00
PLANS AND POSSIBILITIES: ARCHITECTS ON CLIENTS
DWELL: What is the smallest architecture job you've accepted?
Elizabeth Roberts: There are a variety of ways to measure the scale of a project. When I left a large corporate architecture office in New York City to open my own firm, I transitioned from working with a team of dozens on projects -like the renovation of Grand Central Station -to working alone on the renovation of a rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan. The project was small by traditional measures, but the space was completely transformed by building large glass and drywall partitions that did not touch the existing walls or floors and by integrating freestanding cabinetry throughout the space so that it appeared to be built-in. It was a minute project with an enormous impact on how my clients live and interact with their home.
What is the smallest job you'd accept now?
The scale of a project is relative. Small by whose measure? The projects that I accept are never small in the client's eyes. At their best, small projects can be complete, effective, and satisfying; at their worst, they can be insignificant, unappreciated, and inconsequential. I don't accept projects based on scale or fee, but rather the impact that a given commission might have. I'm reminded of a common school project where students are asked to design a universal joint -a type of socket that will connect any type of material. While the product and assignment are small, the potential impact is tremendous.
What is the largest architectural project you've completed?
Again, this depends on your choice of measure. The largest, in terms of significance to my career, was my first independent project where I learned how to balance my aesthetics and beliefs with those of my clients. I had the good fortune of getting my first commission three months out of undergraduate school, and I learned a lot about the reality of construction and my profession. Most importantly, I walked away with confidence that I was able to complete projects on my own. Additionally, it was extremely important that this project go well, as it was my mother's home -and if she wasn't completely satisfied, I never would have heard the end of it.
Who is your ideal client?
I feel that it's very important that a project be designed by Elizabeth Roberts Design for and with the client, as it is not built for the architect but for the client. The architect moves on, while the client remains. Since I value this interaction so highly, my ideal client is one who knows themselves and what they like, while being open to change -one who exhibits a healthy balance of opinion, enthusiasm, and communication.
What are the first steps a client should take if they are thinking about hiring a designer?
It is important that a client be prepared to present themselves to a designer. We can be very persuasive, and it is important that clients assert themselves. I recommend that a client compile a file of things that they love, whether it's a color, a book, a work of art, or a word. All of these things will help a designer understand who the client is and translate that understanding into an environment appropriate to the client. Often, the best architect is the one who can delve into that collage and recognized the client's personality.
What is your dream project?
I would love to win a commission with the single goal of evoking a specific emotion or state of mind. As far -as work-process is concerned, I would love to create a space with a team of friends who are experts from various and disparate fields that fascinate me: an industrial designer with a great knowledge of plastics and moldable materials, a steel fabricator with beautiful details, a poet, a sculptor, a structural engineer. An interdisciplinary collaboration -I would love to place myself at the nexus of all of these creative energies.