It’s about learning isn’t it? It’s about being open to change, open to development and that’s where I think committees can be really quite exciting places – if you go with the view that you want to try and influence what happens next. (educational developer)

One of our case studies originally wanted an iconic building for their subject discipline. The original plans were ambitious and involved hiring a ‘celebrity’ architect to provide a grand design. Ultimately, the plans were deemed to be too expensive and they were subsequently dropped and replaced by a more sensibly costed project that was developed by working with a local architect.

Institutions are increasingly recognising the value of users, estates and university working together to determine their client brief. They may find it helpful to consider this brief as the optimum fit between four project drivers:

  • need
  • space
  • budget
  • time.

This approach involves an ability and willingness to understand and respect different agendas, to develop shared criteria for success and to facilitate progress by focusing on areas of agreement rather than difference. When discourse is working well, each group tends to find ways of adjusting its requirements to meet collective goals, often generating new opportunities for themselves in the process.


This is about the aspirations and activities the project seeks to accommodate. It’s an opportunity for blue-sky thinking, although, in our experience, identification of needs tends to be more innovative when clients creatively work with the prompts, opportunities and constraints provided by the other three project drivers.


This is about the amount, type and quality of space required. It can be opportunity for generating an ideal wish-list, although once again, in our experience, identification of space requirements tends to be more innovative when the realities of context are taken into account from the outset. For refurbishment projects, guiding influences will include building configuration, spatial characteristics, existing adjacencies and phasing options for minimal disruption. For new-build, guiding influences are often considerably more flexible, with all the advantages and disadvantages that such freedom brings.


This is about identifying the amount of money required to accommodate project aspirations and activities – initial capital cost, ongoing operating cost and life-cycle cost. It is also about identifying the amount of money actually available. The latter often becomes the deciding parameter on the type of project that goes ahead.


This is about pacing and the degree of urgency, the options ranging from a long incremental approach with funding in several phases to a short transformational approach with upfront funding in a single phase. Deciding factors can be the degree of organisational/academic change desired, refurb or new-build route and funding availability.