top of page

How to Use Storytelling to Connect to Your Clients - Fiona Dunin, FMD Architects (Think Big Ep3)

Updated: Jun 27, 2021

In this episode, I spoke to Australian architect and interior designer Fiona Dunin from FMD Architects about her Melbourne-based practice.

Fiona is an architect who trained initially as an interior designer. She speaks about how this training has helped her and her practice to hone in on the interior details seeing them as just as necessary as the overall design of spaces.

In today's episode, I wanted to know more about how Fiona and her team use storytelling in the design process, as it's something that stood out to me as being important to their work.

We also discuss:

✨ Her background in interior design

✨ How she feels about 3D modelling and the ways she communicates the design to the client

Persuading clients and challenging the brief

✨ Working with consultants

At the end of the episode, I ask Fiona to give her top tips about communication, and I share some expressions you could try when you want to challenge the brief.

If you would like to find out more about Fiona Dunin and her practice, FMD Architects, you'll find images for all the buildings we discussed on the episode page.

FMD Architects

Recommended episodes:

Episode 1: How to Build Your English Confidence: for Architects and Built Design Professionals

Episode 2: What Does it Mean to Think Like an Architect? How to be more innovative & Creative

✨ Connect with me on LinkedIn Tara Cull


Images: FMD Architects

Table of Contents - Take me straight to these sections Vocabulary

Expressions Key Vocabulary

battens (timber battens) - small square timber strips

consideration - careful thought

clinker bricks - Clinker bricks are partially vitrified bricks used in the construction of buildings.

CLT - cross-laminated timber (prefabricated)

diplomatic - polite language integrity - the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.

pragmatics - (noun) a way to deal with things sensibly, realistically and practically

pragmatically - to deal with things sensible and practically

phrasal verbs

carry through / carrying through

building up - to do something gradually

brought in - to be added to the project


Quick Find Snippets - Take me straight to these sections

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 0:00

You're listening to think big Episode Three.

Hello Big Thinkers and welcome to Think Big English for architects. I'm your host, Tara Cull, Neurolanguage coach, English teacher, and landscape architect. And I'm bringing all these passions and interests together to help people in the built design profession, who speak English as a second language, to build outstanding communication skills to help them find their voice and to speak up. You can learn more about my coaching programmes at What is the purpose of this podcast? The purpose of the podcast is to share stories from architects and about architecture, and its various disciplines. The podcast is for everyone. But it's also a listening resource for English learners, from the discipline of architecture to improve listening comprehension, and critical thinking skills, and the expression of ideas in the architecture profession. So each episode comes with a transcript on the episode page, and you'll find a link in the show notes as well as key vocabulary. At the end of each episode, I also break down some of the key vocabulary that you might use in different situations that come up in each of the episodes. Today, I wanted to share with you an interview that I had recently with Fiona Dunin, from FMD architects Australia. So Fiona is the founder of FMD architects. And she's an architect who originally trained as an interior designer. And she now speaks about how this training has helped her and the work of her practice to hone in on the interior details, seeing them as just as important as the overall design of spaces. You can find out more about her work at And I will include all the links to all the house projects that we talked about in today's show, in the show notes and in the blog post for the episode. In today's episode, I really wanted to know more about how Fiona and her team use storytelling in the design process, as it's something that stood out to me as being important in her work. And you can really see this when you visit their website, it's the very first thing that you see on their web page. In the interview, we also discuss her background in interior design and how this influences her work. We talk about how she feels about 3d modelling and sketching, and the ways that she communicates the design to the client. We talk about persuading clients about challenging the brief, working with consultants. And she also gives her top tips for young architects about what's important when it comes to communication and working with clients and consultants. What do I want you to look out for today? Well, Fiona, and I use a lot of vocabulary to discuss ideas and how to defend your ideas. So keep an eye out for how she does this. You'll also find a list of the key vocabulary and explanations on the episode page. And at the very end of the episode, if you stick around until the end, I'm going to explain some vocabulary that you might use if you want to challenge someone's ideas. So let's get into the interview and see what Fiona has to say.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 4:18

Hi, Fiona, thanks for joining me today. I'm very excited to have you chat to me about your practice and some of the things that you do in your practice. So just before we get started, if in case people don't know much about FMD architects or you could you explain a little bit about who you are, where you are and how people can find you.

Fiona Dunin 4:40

Yeah, thanks for having me. We're an architectural interior design practice based in Melbourne. I started the practice 15 years ago, after working for fairly high end residential commercial practice, where I sort of lead the interiors in that practice and It's funny. So when I started my own practice, people didn't really know I was an architect. They thought I was an interior designer, but I've actually both so qualified as both. So that's why I set up myself as FMD Architects. Now, now people don't really know I'm an interior designer really okay. But they can see it in the work that we do is pretty detailed and pretty obsessive with the interiors. And I suppose what we do is, most of our work is really small boutique, residential, and small commercial work. And it's all about carrying through the sort of architectural concepts through to the finest detail is how I would describe what we do.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglishr 5:44

Yeah. And I mean, that's something that really strikes me with your work is that there is so much detail in the interiors, there's a lot of consideration for the way light comes into the house, the way the materials are used in detail, then I think that's something that's really, really appeals to me. And is that is that something that really comes through a lot in your practice with your project?

Fiona Dunin 6:07

Yeah, definitely. So the way we work is, is fairly pragmatic, but at the beginning, so it is very much through plan and just getting the spaces right. And I think that's the interior designer, me as well as like making sure the spaces are the right size and the right sort of position. And the architect to me is getting the orientation, right and thinking about where the winds coming from, where the lights coming from. So we kind of work just in plan first and get all of that right. And then something the clients can understand is a plan as well. So thinking about communicating and building up the clients understanding of architectural language, so everyone can generally work out a plan some can't, and then we move into more complex elevations, three dimensional things, things like that as well. So back to that, though, is when we then move into three dimensions, that's where we really start to see what the light does. And that actually, is the drive up for a lot about forms and materials is how the light is actually penetrating space at different times of the year. So yeah, it's fairly sort of highly engineered.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 7:15

Yeah. And do you feel like, you're because you studied interior design first? And then did architecture? Do you feel like there's a big difference between the way that you practice compared to somebody who is who's just done architecture?

Fiona Dunin 7:30

Yeah. It depends on the person. So it depends, like, I've worked for a few different architects and some really separated architecture and interiors. And I'm sort of like it to the point where the interior designers were in a different room, you know, which to me, I found very bizarre. And whereas me, if there is, you know, other practices I've worked for, you know, the architects are just as obsessive over drawer detail, as you know, the overall sort of elevation. So I think it depends on the person. And you see that in, you know, some of the great architects, you sort of look at, you know, they do obsess over those fine details. So, I think everyone could do it, but it's just whether they consider interior design of value.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglishr 8:18

I think it's it's important to consider the work of other consultants as well. And, and I think when you come from a different background, and you're working with another, it helps to be more open,

Fiona Dunin 8:31

I guess. Yeah. And just saying with the landscape I mean your're a landscape architect and ways you're bringing the landscape architects pretty early in on the piece, so. (Great) you know, because often, they're brought in at the end, and then the client can't afford to use them. And then yeah, it's done. Yeah. If you bring them in, in the early stages, and you see that in our work, the garden is very integrated in the design, then it's, it's it's just as important, the landscape is as important as the architecture as the interior is. They're all just all committed to each other.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 9:04

Yeah, absolutely. I agree. And that's something that when I've worked with architects in the past, they've always, I've always said, try and get us in early on, because, for example, if you have an internal courtyard, or you have something where we could be working on that internal courtyard before you have lock up stage, for example, yes, that's such an important aspect. And, and sometimes it can cost three times as much because you're having to, hand bring in materials or things like that. So yeah, yeah, I think it's really essential to get all of the consultants in on. So that's something that I think is really important. One thing that I read on your website, which I love, and I think maybe this kind of it tells the story of your practice and how you work it says we are storytellers, our architecture tells the stories of the place on which it resides and the stories of the people who occupy the place, both past and present. Our design response oscillates between the pragmatic and the poetic, I absolutely love that quote, I think it's a great landing page, actually, Oh, do you know bit about where that comes from and why you've used it

Fiona Dunin 10:12

we actually just updated that very recently, because I've been searching for ages. For the right thing to say, rather than the boring we are architects specialising in architecture interiors, it's like, it was just something that has just been sort of building up over time and starting to look at the folio now. And there are very strong stories between in every project. And it's something that we're sort of building up and we build up, the stories have started to build up the stories, as collages as well. So rather than a written story, it's a visual story. And it's something that it's getting stronger and stronger and our work that we're able to kind of do this analysis of the place of the people of the history and build up this, and then that starts informing the latest stages. So we still do that pragmatic sort of planning approach, and understanding the site and the lighting, and the winds and all of that. But then it's all these other things that we observed one way or these conversations we have with a client that then start coming in sort of really during design development, as we're building up a three dimensional form and the materials that start enriching and enlivening the building. So by the end, and then it actually keeps evolving. So I could pretty dynamic I suppose that sound, the client may still say something during construction. We are that's a great, let's, let's change this do this. And it changes. So we're not saying like, once we've documented my building, that's it. We don't change things. There is the opportunity. We don't always do it. Sometimes something comes along, you go Oh, that's a fantastic idea. If it enriches the story, then. Yeah. So it's making sure that you're still sort of nimble and able to see where there's still design opportunities, even at the later stages of the design process.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 12:06

Yeah, I think flexibility is so important. Yeah. Could you give us an example of where story comes through in a project?

Fiona Dunin 12:12

Yeah. A classic is the bustle house, which I don't know whether you've got images of that, that you can look at on the website, or

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish

I'll put them up and I'll put a link to it into the right.

Fiona Dunin 12:26

In the Bustle house, we it actually said that was a great story. So the house was is this beautiful Victorian terrace house sitting on a hill. And it looks like this haunted house on the hill, it's quite dilapidated. The garden was all overrun. And we've got this great client, this really super strong lady. And she bought it off this family who'd had it in the family since it was built. So I was in a one family for, you know, 150 years before my client bought it. And so the lady who lived in it for 70/80 years, the original owner was pretty much right most the time and my client was a single mother when she bought the house. So we talked about the two ladies and she talked about the house as the old lady. And she goes out with the old lady doesn't like something stick, the light starts with rain, and they have to move that piece of furniture out. And then she's happy again. Cookie. But so then we started looking at Victorian ladies and how they were portrayed in portraits. And they're always portrayed in side profile. And their bustle was their form of expression. So a Victorian terraced house is always embellished on the front elevation, not the side, the sides neglected. So we said, well, actually, we're on a corner site besides actually really important that this is how we can express the two women that have owned this house. So you have the original house, and then the new bustle and train that we have built as a new extension on the back, which was our client. And then allowing the materials that were chosen, were ones that would age and whether so that we didn't we didn't sort of Polish or paint the original house, we left it quite beautifully weathered. And then the new materials were designed to weather over time so that the two could weather together and decay. And then that brought in stories about, you know, women ageing gracefully and not not using Botox and all that sort of stuff. So there's all these layers of stories that would go out.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 14:25

Yeah, so that's giving me goosebumps.

Fiona Dunin 14:27

Yeah, it's really good fun. And you can see it in the side profile. And there's a beautiful train that we've built. So timber was our fabric, and we built this big curvy fence. And this was planted on the inside and outside again, the landscaping was really important that and now people come and you get great city views from the site. So she really wanted to engage with the local community and people will pass and see into her backyard through the sort of open batton fence and plantings on the outside. And so she has this constant dialogue with people walking up and down the street and people now come and sit on her fence, which you can sit on because it's sort of half of it is garden and come and have drinks and watch the sunset from her house. Yeah, so that's a classic story. Yeah. But you'll see most of the projects on the website have quite strong stories behind them.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 15:19

Yeah, there's a there's a few that I've been looking at one Ripple house is beautiful. Yeah, we designed I love that house. And yeah, lots of really nice adjectives to describe that house. I think it's great. Yeah, and coupe was

Fiona Dunin 15:31

Yeah, and Coopworth is another one that's worth a look that's got a really strong story about the island it's on a very remote island. So let's look at the history of the island and also the history of the site. And then our clients and their, you know, their position on the site, and so on, as well as all intertwined in the, in the design.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 15:49

I think story is such an important thing too, because it makes the makes the design lasts so much longer. And that experience and I actually worked on a project that it was the most amazing project I worked on because of the story behind it. And it's the one that I remember the most, I worked with a woman who she had her garden designed, and her husband had had died a couple of years beforehand. And so the garden was for him. And so we were designing this front fence, and the landscaper was having trouble finding the particular timber that we wanted. And so he went all around Melbourne to find this this timber and he eventually he found this really amazing wharf timber. I think it was in the Docklands. And then he brought it back to the site showed to the client and the client said, Where did you get that from? Which Wharf? Did you get that from? And it it was the timber from the wharf that he had worked at. And he didn't know the landscape he didn't know. And the client was just, it was just meant to be so it was just connecting them together. Yeah, he had worked on this dock. And she was just ecstatic. So I think story is such an important aspect.

Fiona Dunin 17:05

Yeah. And on the Bustle house, that's an interesting point is the landscape the landscape architect actually did come in later on this one, but choose a landscape architect that their client brought in, who specialises in sort of local indigenous planting, and she brought in so I talked about the history of the two women, but then she brought in the whole history of indigenous culture on the site and actually used to realise what a prominent local indigenous site this was. And then she then planted it with a lot of native grasses that were in the area when it was first settled. And so it's sort of added a whole other layer to the design as well.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 17:47

Yeah. And I guess, as an architect, if you're doing that with through your story, and then encouraging other consultants as well to buy into that story. I think that's great.

Talking about design process. What is I know, there's lots of things in the design process, but what's the number one thing you value? Maybe story? But is there anything else?

Fiona Dunin 18:10

No, one, number one thing I value, I think it's probably just that carry, ensuring the details carried through in all aspects of the design. So right down to the tiniest little door port is considered. So which is incredibly time consuming and very non profitable, I must admit, it's, it's kind of the projects that really work. And I suppose the other thing that I really value is the two things is that that carries with detail. And the other thing that's very important, in design process is the trust and communication between what I call the love triangle between the architect the client and the builder. If you don't have that, you will not have a successful project. So if one fails, and the whole thing just just doesn't optimise its outcome.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 19:01

Yeah, everyone needs to be on the same page. Yeah. Went because you have such a good relationship with the client and the builder. What are some of the things that come through in terms of what's important when you're explaining, say, your ideas from initial ideas? And maybe even looking at the site analysis through to describing things to the builder? What are the some of the most important aspects of communication between all three?

Fiona Dunin 19:46

I think it's really it's a lot of it is the pragmatics of the project. To be frank, so the idea of the stories is something that usuaully we don't we talk a little bit about during the design process, but it's sort of clarifies itself towards the end. So it is very much about the pragmatics because the detailing when it comes to all three of us, but it is interesting that the Coopworth house, we didn't really talk about the story so much with our builder. But he actually just presented it in the Architecture awards a few weeks ago, and he listened to the presentation by zoom. And he was blown away he goes, I did not any of that. That's amazing. Because I learned so much about the project, we got really excited. So I was like, oh, maybe I should have kind of talked about that more at the beginning. But then I have another builder that I work with who is an architect and a builder. And the first time we met was on a house called the cross stitch house. And he came into the office to sit down to look at the drawings he gets, he sat down, he had the drawings, he goes, Okay, now Just tell me about the concept behind this design. You've got the job? Yeah. It's like, wow, you actually are interested in the concept. So perhaps I think it's it's maybe talking about the concept a little bit more, but without letting it sort of override the importance of pragmatism and function. So that is that balance between pragmatics and poetry? I would say.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 21:23

And one thing I find a lot between a client and as a practitioner, is you have to think about how you're going to deliver that information, depending on what your client is like, like if they can understand the language or if you need to simplify it. Do you find you have a spectrum of clients that understand certain things? And

Fiona Dunin 21:46

yes, yes, and I suppose I suppose thats where 3D comes into it. But I also don't like giving them too many 3Ds like not threading the whole building, because I think there is a level of trust that they need to trust us that we know what we're doing. So I'll show them the materials, the elevations, but at the same time, trust us and not try and control because often if you give them too much, then they think they can kind of redesign it or whatever as well, and that they don't understand necessarily the importance of certain details. It's complex. Yeah, I

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 22:20

think that's interesting. It's, I think you're right, in that you could give them too much. They have too much to comment on. Yeah. And it can really take your expertise out of the project. Yeah, yeah. And so when you're talking about the types of drawings and things that you give to the client, what sort of things do they see sections? And,

Fiona Dunin 22:43

yeah, they'll see, I mean, generally, it's the site site we're looking at above, and there'll be elevations of the bathroom, rather than, you know, some architects give full 3D's, but I sort of think, well, it sort of takes a lot of the joy out of the process to when you're actually building, you actually see it all coming to life. And otherwise, it's like, it looks just like a render, it's sort of not as exciting. Sometimes it's when you get to see it on site, and then they see what it's all about. And sometimes you know that that Oh, no, we can cut that ceiling out. That's not important. But it actually is really important one until I see it on site, but by then it's too late. It's already kind of out. So yeah, it's a bit of a balance, but we will give them I still sort of typically while we work in three dimensional programmes now. It's the two days I think are a good way of communicating still. Do you still use hand drawn? sketches as well? Yes, we do. And even hand drawn details. So I've got people working on working by hand, I pretty much freehand. And then everyone else works on CAD. So yeah, it's a bit of a bit of a mix, nothing's important. And I still get, you know, the young guys coming in the office, to, for him to learn how to make sure they can still sketch and draw so that when you're on site, you can draw something quickly. You don't have to go back and 3d model it and send it off, you need to be able to draw and think through drawing.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 24:13

Absolutely. And I think it's a it's an art that I think a lot of architects are losing exactly what you're saying they'll turn up to site and not know how to communicate that very quickly, because they've relied so heavily on 3d programmes or 3d drawings. So I think that's a really important point.

Fiona Dunin 24:32

Yeah, it's funny, we had a meeting the other day with an engineer, and we're all working in three dimensional, you know, we've coordinated his structural model with our model, but putting it all together on the senior engineer and myself, we're both like, we need to see the drawings in 2D to understand and because we're so used to seeing framing drawings in 2D, not three dimensional models, we can actually mark them up and read them quicker and understand what's going on. If It's 3D in our mind rather than having to model which is kind of strange?

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 25:05

Yeah, I guess, do you find with a lot of the younger architects coming through, they have more 3d skills than hand drawn skills?

Fiona Dunin 25:13

Yes, definitely. But so it's a it's a bit of a mix, but some still love drawing, which is great. And it's that we'll get them to pick it up and was given to a roll yellow trace, and you know, if something doesn't work, sketch it, sketch it, and then try and think through the sketching process.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 25:30

Yeah, I think that's a super important aspect. I love that I don't talk to a lot of architects, who think that that's the most important aspect of the design process. But

Unknown Speaker 25:42

have you ever had to

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 25:45

present a concept or an idea that was a bit crazy bit out there. And then you have to convince the client or the builder that this is going to work?

Fiona Dunin 25:57

Many times. And it's, it's interesting, sometimes, that's why we don't we talk more about the pragmatics than the poetry to sort of convinced them on a pragmatic level first, rather than sort of poetic level, because if you sort of pitch with the poetic, sometimes it depends on the person, it depends on whether they pragmatic or, they're more sort of abstract poetic in their thinking. So you kind of gotta look at, understand who they are, and then pitch it to that person. But one good example would be the Old Be-al house, which is on our website. And that's an old Interwar klinker brick house. So built in the 30s 20s 30s. And it's in a sort of a suburb where there's a lot of houses being knocked down at these new generic, giant mcmansions are being built and our client just hated the house, thought it was terrible, and just wanted to drop it down. Couldn't quite afford to knock it down. So we sort of took it on and she hated the brick. And so our concept design, we came back to her with keeping the old part of the house and then actually, we're knocking down parts of the original house, and then reusing that clinker brick in that new extension. So everything that she hated about we about the house, we actually reintroduced in the new design. So she could have just sacked us on the spot. But she actually then saw and she understood the beauty of it rather than just looking at it's not my house. And so I think she could say what we saw. But it was quite risky.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 27:36

How did you talk her? How did you talk around it

Fiona Dunin 27:39

It didn't take a lot of talking. It's that I think when she saw the actual design to it, oh, you know that it can be beautiful, that brick can be a beautiful thing. And it's like elevating this kind of and a clinker brick is a brick that's actually rejected from the kiln because it was burnt. So everything about the house was sort of about to take a beautiful red rejected elements, waste elements and turning them into something beautiful.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 28:04

Yeah. And I think that's such a great example of trusting yourself as a designer and trusting what you know, will work. Yeah. And taking a risk, I think, yeah.

Fiona Dunin 28:14

And not necessarily doing what the client sort of briefs you to do. You know, it's like when you're doing competitions, the brief will be this, but it's actually when you challenge the brief, that's when you'll often say you'll win a competition because you've actually thought of something beyond what they thought of. And that's what you're getting paid to do. You know, you don't want to do what they're telling you to do you want to give them something that they have not thought of doing.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 28:39

Yeah. And I think that's that's it's essential when you're doing the design, you've got to be how are you going to stand out? What what are you going to do different that another architect might not do? Another project that I'm really interested in? Because this is how I came to know your work is the CLT house. Yeah. And was that an opposite process where the builder introduced you to the material and then convinced you about the material?

Fiona Dunin 29:07

Yes. Well, the builder is the client. And he so we started that job back in 2009. Yeah, it's a long process. And typical builder takes 10 years to build his house. So we started back in 2009, CLT (cross laminated timber), wasn't even really available in Australia. And we were looking, we had an engineer in London, who was looking at factories for us in Austria and Switzerland, for the CLT product and it was something he is a very big commercial builder. He's keen to kind of test it on his house before introducing it into larger scale professional building. So it was it was sort of a little laboratory this house into sort of testing, testing what the material can do, but the various reason that project started stopped, which was kind of good because then what the lab to happen is CLT then became available in New Zealand, then there were agents in Australia that could actually we could liaise with rather than having to go through London. And then by the time we started, there was actually a factory just outside of Melbourne producing CLT. So we could actually access CLT in Australia, which was excellent. But by then I think we've researched every single CLT factory in the world. And we've actually got a mix of two different CLT products in there. So an Xlam and a Stora Enso product. So we sort of knew inside out what we could do with CLT. And again, what was important to me on that project was, well, CLT on the outside there, you have to wrap and protect it, it can't be exposed to water was actually really expressing the material in the interior and all its sort of all its integrity. So it's, it's beautifully constructed. And it's funny, because our client was the builder, that we could push him to really craft this building, so that you know, down to sort of fine joinery work is done out of CLT. And, and when you sort of play with it, it's like, you know, the screws are sort of this big, they're, like 600 millimetres long, it's a very industrial material. So to get a refined interior out of it's actually quite challenging.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 31:18

Yeah, and the pictures of it look incredible. The details are just so Smick. And yeah, just yeah.

Fiona Dunin 31:26

Yeah, and every screws every really so beautifully positioned. So it's all credit to him, I have to say.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 31:35

So I'll put a link to some of the images of that, because it's such a great project. The other the other detail that I loved about that building was the sawtooth roof, I think, such a great way of maximising the sun and the light coming in. It's just another testament to that

Fiona Dunin 31:52

idea. And it was sort of noisy in the background. So it's here, the sawtooth roof had a few different functions. One was to get sort of elevated sidelights, because the spaces have allowed to sit his library office, lots of different functions in that space. So we didn't want a lot of direct light beaming through. And then there's beautiful views to the south, which in Australia, obviously, North is where all the sun comes from South is indirect light. But that's all of us were so good a piece of challenges in terms of getting light into that space. But the sawtooth also allowed us to put all that solar panels on that pitch, as well. So we're capturing all our energy is produced from that roof as well for the house.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 32:40

Yeah, fantastic. Again, so I'll put some photos, I think it's a great project. I've actually done it with a couple of my students, and they really enjoyed it. So great. I think my last question for you would be if if you were to give one piece of advice to a young architect, or somebody who's coming into practice, and they're trying to explain their idea to their colleagues or to a client, what are some of the things that you would say to them to help them

Fiona Dunin 33:10

So firstly, make sure you listen to your client. Listen to their needs and wants, respond to their needs and wants and challenge their needs and wants. So you so that you can maybe come up with a solution that is better than what they ever expected and challenges what they expected. So I think that's probably the most important thing is listening. First, you've got to listen, you can't just come in and throw down your ideas like a rock star, I think everyone's gonna love them. You need to respond to the client and the place. Listen to the client, listen to the place.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 33:48

I think that's such a great, that's great advice. I think listening. Is it underutilised skill?

Fiona Dunin 33:54


Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 33:55

We all need to be working on so yeah, I think that's great. Anything else you would say that you would tell? young architect? Yeah, I

Fiona Dunin 34:04

think communication is key. And it's, again, another skill. So listening and communicating. And I always like talking about our drawings so that people understand, you know, when you're documenting. you're communicating through drawings. So you've got to make sure there's no assumptions. Everything is spelled out. So it's very clear for the builder, but he's got to do it. So it's it's the takes a lot of practice to learn how to communicate.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 34:32

Do you get your clients to draw in a in a in a meeting with you sometimes?

Fiona Dunin 34:36


Tara Cull 34:38

Don't give them the pencil.

Fiona Dunin 34:42

A couple has attempted that it's a bit scary. But no, ideally, ideally, we do the drawing I would say I can do the talking.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 34:51

Yeah, well, yeah, one one time I did try to get the client to they were having trouble explaining exactly what they wanted. And so I said, Why don't you draw? And I was like, Well, that was a bad idea. I don't really know, any more than what I did before. So I think we leave drawing to the experts. Right? Yeah, that's right. Well, thank you, Fiona, I have really enjoyed our chat today, I think a lot of people will find a lot of the things that you've said are very useful. I think it's great advice. And it's good to get insight into that process. I think so thank you very much.

Fiona Dunin 35:26

Oh, you're welcome.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 35:26

Thank you. Thanks. Again,

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 35:28

to Fiona for her generous time, in the interview, I learnt a lot about some of the ways that her practice works, and how she uses story to connect with her clients. And with other people involved in the project, also. And I think that's really important to be able to share that with other people.

Expressions for challenging the brief

So, as you've heard in the interview, Fiona talks about challenging the brief (or going against what the client might tell you in the beginning). Now, this can be difficult sometimes when a client comes to you with an idea or with a brief, but you really want to challenge their ideas, or you think there's a better way of doing it. And you want to sound diplomatic. So I have five different expressions that you could try to use and adapt to your situation that might help you to come across as diplomatic but wanting to challenge the brief or to give a different perspective.

1. So the first one you could say, is, I take your point, but I'm not really sure if this is going to work. Could we try something else?

2. If the client doesn't like something, for example, you could say, could you explain to me exactly what you mean, when you say you don't like this? What is it about this that you don't necessarily like?

3. I'm very aware of the challenges here, but have you considered this instead?

4. I can see where you're coming from. But, I have another idea which I'd like to explore if that's okay. And then the final one,

5. I take your point, however, could we take a look at this from another perspective, I'd like to have the opportunity to explore some more ideas, and I'll come back to you with a few examples.

Congratulations, you've made it all the way to the end of the episode. Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed today's episode, could you do me a great favour and share it with somebody who you think might enjoy the podcast episode. You can find out more about our programmes and more information about what we do at And I will see you again next time.


  1. Ripple House

  2. Ripple House

  3. Old Be-al House

  4. Old Be-al House

  5. Coopworth House

  6. Coopworth House

  7. Coopworth House

  8. Bustle House

  9. Bustle House

  10. CLT House

  11. CLT House

  12. CLT House


Have any questions about anything you've heard in today's episode? Send me an email.

Find out more about my 1:1 & coaching programs.

309 views0 comments


Die Kommentarfunktion wurde abgeschaltet.
bottom of page