I have been lucky enough to attend the AIA Convention for three years in a row now. Every Convention has a different theme with a general goal of improving, bettering and furthering the profession.
This year’s theme was IMPACT. We heard from President Bill Clinton on his work with the Clinton Global Initiative and the impact that architecture can have in developing innovative solutions. We also heard from Julie Dixon on the art of telling a story. This message resonated with me in a way that few messages have before. Not only is it important to tell a story when presenting a project or understanding a client’s needs and they way they use a building, but I see a place for storytelling in spreading the message about the value of architecture and how we get the public to understand what it is we do as architects.
The impact of how a house or a place is influences (positively or negatively) someone is much more effective than describing a “moment of two materials joining” or the “innovative structure” used to reduce impact. Julie Dixon describes storytelling as this:
“A vibrant storytelling culture means the difference between whether your organization has a living, breathing portfolio of different stories, from different perspectives, that share its impact—or just a single, somewhat stagnant story. It’s the difference between having one person in the organization dedicated to storytelling (whether that’s the CEO, development director, or head of communications) and everyone in the organization having compelling stories at their fingertips. And for many organizations, it’s the difference between investing in telling the organization’s story in a more compelling way—or not investing.”
Storytelling is much more than creative ways to share a project or an idea. Storytelling gets to the core of why we design great places in a way that everyone understands. For instance, Confluence Denver just wrote an article title “Three Ways to Keep Housing Affordable for Artists” The article describes a couple who has small children and needs a place to work on their art. They have found a great home in a live/work building, Artspace Jackson Flats. The article goes on to explain why the space is so great for the family and the work they do as well as the impact of the physical space. This article is not an architect speaking to the effectiveness of the design or the decisions that influenced the final parti. It is real human issues connected to a family that many people can relate to and just so happens to explain why they enjoy their home so much. And as we all know, they enjoy it because of the architecture and the care the architect took in designing this home.
The key is this: whom are you targeting for your message? We know our conversations are often insulated and difficult to understand. Today, try and think of one story and how you would share this with your mother or your best friend (assuming they are not in the profession). Speak to the importance of good architecture but relate it emotionally to your audience. It doesn’t need to be about changing the conversation, but about directing and connecting it to the right people.
Finally, go ahead and share your story! We have to be the ambassadors of the architecture story.