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Seven ways RIBA client advisers make better buildings

Ruth Butler & Nigel Maynard

What are client advisers, and how do they help? Two RIBA client advisers on how you can offer invaluable advice at the right point in the project

An RIBA client adviser is usually an experienced architect and professional practitioner (but not the one designing the building) working with the client's team. They are independent of the supply team, monitoring and helping the client to manage the design process from its earliest stages.

The RIBA selects client advisers from its membership for their all-round procurement expertise, design experience, business knowledge and track-record of delivering results in construction projects.

When clients consider future changes to their organisation, the most important decisions are made at the beginning, before a building is even conceived of. Client advisers provide clear and independent advice, through the whole life of the project, no matter what the form of procurement.

One Angel Square.
One Angel Square. Credit: Andrew Hatfield

There are seven ways in which client advisers can make better buildings:

1. Client resources and the business plan

Client advisers often supplement a client’s in-house team by bringing specific expertise and extra resources.  The RIBA Register of Client Advisers includes cross-sector experience (infrastructure, housing, wellbeing, education, etc) and includes sustainability experts.  Advisers help clients to deliver value by developing: A shared vision, strategic brief, defining success factors, establishing a well-resourced project structure, with agreed quality gateways (among other things).

Client advisers provide technical support to the client’s wider business plan.  They set long-term strategies for development, advising on the impacts on people, places and facilities, long before the design team is appointed.  A clear understanding of the client’s need will inform estate decisions – the result could be new or re-purposed buildings – or no building at all.

Hawley Primary School.
Hawley Primary School. Credit: SCABAL.

2. Brief development 

One of the most important first steps a client will take on any project is the development of the strategic brief. This should form part of any business plan and initial appraisal process. The client adviser will support the client through this stage of analysis and exploration, helping to determine the scope of the project and its wider objectives. This is then be developed into the project brief that underpins all the work that follows. Good briefing is an essential part of any project and a client adviser helps to get these important foundations in place. This is one of the first steps to creating better buildings.

UK Pavilion Dubai.
UK Pavilion Dubai. Credit: Es Devlin and Avantgarde.

3. Embedding quality

Client advisers work with clients before a design team or contractor is appointed to advise on how define a realistic approach to balancing time, cost and quality. A clear vision, articulated in specific values and objectives, can inform how appointments are made embedding quality from the outset. Advisers can also help clients to push quality as a project develops by structuring focused evaluation processes and promoting design review. They encourage clients to give time to thinking about and managing quality, enabling them and their design teams to get to the heart of a project and be clear about priorities in sometimes difficult trade-offs.

4. User experience

Client advisers know that to make better buildings and environments you need to learn from experience. There is ample evidence in many fields that this helps, especially with wise decisions making. Relevant experience can be the client’s own, where they have an ongoing building programme, or those of their client adviser and others – but it’s important to capture this learning at the start of a project, when it can inform the client’s approach. Client advisers have wide experience of varied client types, scales and institutions and use techniques and data to help clients benefit from experience both before starting a project and after completion – through post-occupancy evaluation.

Central Somers Town.
Central Somers Town. Credit: London Borough of Camden

5. Sustainability 

A better building is one which uses less energy, is more comfortable and has less negative impact on the environment. Client advisers can help ensure that the requirements to achieve this are incorporated into the brief, maintained through the design process and measured post-occupancy.

The environmental impact of constructing (embodied energy) and running buildings (energy in-use) is massive and must be minimised to mitigate our climate emergency. Key questions to be asked include whether a new building is required at all or an existing one could be adapted, and how the building might be repurposed in the future.

Energy use and comfort standards go hand in hand and should be defined and championed; Zero Energy, Passivhaus or the Well Standard are examples. Early decisions made on orientation and siting of buildings contribute to energy performance and user satisfaction.

Exhibition Mews.
Exhibition Mews. Credit: Gareth Gardner

6. Team selection

Finding the design team that is the best fit for a project is vital to its success. The right team will be the best value solution, considering the combination of quality, skills, experience and price. As experienced architects, client advisers offer a unique perspective from both sides of the project team, which is of particular value to clients when selecting the design team. Through an in-depth understanding of delivering this role, combined with experience of interpreting clients’ needs on each specific project, client advisers can help to identify the benefits of the different approaches available in the current market. This includes: reviewing the range of skills and experience needed; defining consultants’ scope of services as some may be part of a core team and others specialists with more targeted roles; advising on the best procurement method for selecting the team; and managing the assessment process to evaluate the potential consultants.

Coresi Brasov in Romania.
Coresi Brasov in Romania. Credit: Flavus

7. Adding value

By taking a strategic overview early on, clients with these advisers make a long-lasting impact through inspiring leadership, strategic thinking and holistic and evidence-based assessment in a broader context. At this adaptable stage, client advisers shape the strategic brief through ‘appraising’, ‘examining’ and ‘exploring’ the desirable outcomes. They define the purpose and provide the resources necessary to ensure the client’s needs are met.

As experienced architects, client advisers bring critical analysis and design-thinking to the project, helping to lay the foundations for a successful project long before the design team is appointed. They form strong working relationships with clients, providing valued independent advice throughout the life of one project and into the next.

Ruth Butler & Nigel Maynard with contributions from the CASG (Client Adviser Steering Group)

Outdoor Learning Project.
Outdoor Learning Project. Credit: Peter Langdown Photography

Interested in applying to join the client adviser Register? The open call for the next window of client adviser applications will be confirmed in early 2020.  

To find out more about how to appoint a RIBA client adviser, contact the RIBA Client Services team by emailing or telephone: +44 (0)20 7307 3700. They can provide you with a shortlist of client advisers with the most appropriate skills and experience for your project.