One of the most prevalent complaints from architects in regards to the general public is that people don’t understand or know what we do on a daily basis, and thus might not be able to value the impact architects have on the built environment. When we tell people that we are architects, we are invariably met with responses such as “Do you do commercial or residential architecture?” or “oh… I thought about being an architect”. Unfortunately, architecture is often seen as an insulated profession that too often works in a vacuum and excludes the general populous from its discussions, aspirations and achievements.
People will counter this argument with websites and magazines such as ArchDaily and Architectural Record, among many others. These are great resources, but they are made specifically for architects by other architects and designers. We can sit around all day patting ourselves on the back about how amazing our ideas and designs are, but if we don’t make those ideas apparent and accessible to everyone else, no one will care.
I’d like to offer the example of alternate fields like science and technology (this will seem like a bit of a stretch, but stick with me). Let’s say that a new satellite is launched that will improve WiFi capabilities in every US city and is being put forth by a very ‘brand name’ technology company. If you turned on the local news that evening, opened a news agency web page, or listened to the radio on your way in to work the next day, it would be nearly impossible to not hear about it at least in passing. When a technology company develops an innovative gadget or piece of software, people hear about it. If an architecture firm designs a new and innovative building that will revitalize an area of a major city, people will be lucky if they know about it before the first shovel is put in the ground.
Science and technology sectors are more far reaching than most architectural projects, so those companies have an easier time conveying these innovations and discoveries to a larger audience. Architectural projects usually do not directly affect a wide array of people unless they are massive in scale or are put forth by world renowned architects. This does not mean, though, that there is not an audience that is willing to listen or even longs to know about some of these projects and how they will change the landscape of these cities. If there was a larger push from various media sources to report on architecture and development projects, I believe that we would expand our audience, increase our value, and make architecture more accessible and understandable to more people.
In addition to a heightened awareness of architecture, a campaign such as this has the potential to lead to a more thoughtful architectural process. Often architects design projects through the lens of being an architect. However, if we make the effort to make our designs more digestible to the public at large, we frame our designs in a way that are meant to be more readily perceived and understood by everyone. In doing so, this sort of campaign can become more of a dialogue between architects and the public and not just a grandiose marketing scheme.
Between the “I look up” campaign that was pushed by the AIA, various online and print magazines and blogs, and social media in general, it would seem like architects are on the cusp of creating a wide spread and focused media campaign. Imagine if you turned on your radio on the way into work in the morning and right after you hear about the latest political gaff in the presidential race, you are then told about a new public housing project designed by “_______ Architects” that seeks to revitalize an area of the city in which you live. Or, if you turned on the nightly news when you got home, and heard about how Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects are being tasked with designing a new presidential library and what that will mean for Chicago and President Obama. Instead of burying these topics within the “arts and design” pages or on obscure blogs in the depths of the internet, there is an opportunity to push these stories to be front and center and to make them relevant in people’s lives. We need to move beyond the efforts of “hey look at us because we are important” and “look, other architects, we have created a wonderful piece of architecture” and push the initiative of “hey populous, architects are important and here are these projects that show you why. Now let’s talk about how to make things better”. Maybe these topics won’t resonate with every person out there, but they will surely resonate just as much as hearing about a new weight loss diet or the latest fashion trends for the summer.