Briefing against risk (Part 1)

In this two-part guest blog, Simon Foxell discusses the challenges of briefing in the context of risk and uncertainty and the need to address concurrent issues of managing demographic change and reversing environmental damage.

Image source: Birdman photos

We live in a risky and increasingly, riskier, world, or at least a world where we are much more aware of risk than ever before and tend to employ avoidance strategies of numerous sorts. That such strategies rarely address real risks and prefer to focus on perceived ones with their, now familiar – but apparently almost impossible to contain, cognitive biases shouldn’t obscure the need to factor in real future risks. Briefing is, amongst other things, a matter of effectively, and with the right tools, projecting rationally into the future, describing its needs and dangers and flagging up possible ways of dealing with them. It is a means of coping with uncertainty by gathering and interpreting information that reduces that uncertainty. It attempts to mitigate risk: to the project, but also to the wider context – social and environmental – and much else beyond.

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You have to be there

In our July Sounding Panel session on Transformative Design, Adrian Leaman reiterated the five most important things to think about in architectural briefing…

The next time you see Sam Cassels – and it ideally it should be in person – get him to tell you the story of the nervous presenter confronted with an overhead projector, and baffled by the way it worked, so that every time he tried to say something he stood in front of the projected light image, thereby blocking the projection, thus preventing the audience from having any clue of what he was talking about. Which made him even more jittery and incomprehensible. The presenter should have followed Michael Caine’s advice to young actors: don’t blink, it makes you look weak.  

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