Architectural Branding: Architectural Identities and the Digital Super Hero Syndrome.

The individual architect and small architectural firm is constantly searching for strategies that help identity formation. Sometimes it takes a long time to form our own identities as architects and find our own voices. This was certainly my experience, the particular architectural education I received did not seem to have the aim developing independent architectural voices. There were too many hierarchies, cults and cliques, rivalries, intellectual fashions, egotistical role models, star-sycophancy and small minded tribal dogmas at the time in the culture of the school I went to. Given my own personal dilemmas all of this only confused me as a I also sought my own architectural identity through my own methods of self-education. It took me a long time, but eventually I became more or less comfortable in my own skin as an architect

For many architects identity formation is seen as a central mode of survival. For some architect seems easier, and may be either as an individual, an auteur or as an architect with a brand name is more effective, and I say this without bitterness, a pedigreed and branded architecture school, seems to help. Yes, in this day and age its all about the brand.

Fluid Identities

However, rather than ebbing stable, identity, which underpins branding, is largely socially constructed and fluid. In work at Delft by Marina Bos-de Vos and Leentje Volker (2017) studying the strategic management of architectural firms the establish how articulating how professional aspects of identity enable and constrain practitioners to shape and be shaped by their strategic actions and decisions. They conclude that a construction of identity in architectural firms is at odds with the need to develop new business models of practice. Alvesson, an organisational sociologist defines how identities “are constituted, negotiated, reproduced, and threatened in social interaction, in the form of narratives, and also in material practices”.

Architectural identities are constructed and shaped as a result of the social and cultural contexts that architects find themselves in. For the small firm architect the mission to survive in a unstable and chaotic environment leads to creating an architectural self that contributes to both sense-making in this environment as well as the attempt to make, maintain, construct and consolidate an identity that provides a stable reference point. As noted Bos-de Vos and Leentje Volker note “Identity work links individual agency with the broader social context (Kreiner and Murphy, 2016).”

Brand dilemmas

All architects face the dilemmas of branding an identity in a shifting landscape and social context; and in the current digital age, with its cycles of outrage, and pervasive media, identity is more than ever important. Or, at least that is what we are told. Architects are told to market ourselves, brand ourselves, and to get our social media acts together and to expand out networks. But the danger, in all of this marketing and branding advice, is that it is all too easy to latch onto the nearest template, figure or pre-existing identity that comes to hand. Our profession is a swamp of firms specialising in sustainability and housing with very little differentiation between each firm.

For many architects identity formation is often refined to a few prevailing stable identities and reference points.  This is a consequence of the economic context in which these architects find themselves within the disciplinary discourse of architecture. With the convergence of new design and construction technologies, social media and the celebritization of politics in the media a new identity has in the architectural firmament has emerged: The Digital Super Hero. The idea of an archetypal hero has shifted from the stereotype of the heroic modern auteur, as exemplified in Anne Rand’s Fountainhead novel, and played by Gary Cooper in George Cukor’s movie, to a new kind of identity. This new figure, which nonetheless retains many of the personality layers of the heroic modern auteur, has come about as media and digital technologies have transformed the global system of architecture.

Turbo-Man-Jingle-all-the-Way-Schwarzenegger-c

Numerous star-architects, both global and local, seem to exemplify this new stereotype. It is a predominantly, if not solely, masculine stereotype. For the small architect, beset by volatile macroeconomics and diminishing returns, the promise of and role of the superhero is seductive. This particular identity pervades much of architectural discourse, and it is perhaps more technological, and less ideologically bound to a style, than the early moderns.

Patrik Schumacher  with all of his bluster is an example. Alongside the digital super-hero identity goes a rhetoric masks and mystifies the real socio-material conditions of architectural practice. In other words, for the small architect the idea of the digital superhero helps to mask a real situation, the commodification of architectural knowledge, by providing a convenient and easily mythology to either aspire to or cling to.

PatrikSchumacher_TomWiscombe

Two Digital Super Heros 

Digital Masculinities

These arguments around identity and its social construction, have shifting biases, As Martin Hultman notes in his study of “Ecomodern Masculinities” (think Arnie Schwarzenegger and Al Gore) gender configurations are important in shaping the “planning of sustainable cities, taking part in climate negotiations and as top managers in global companies, and working as designers geo-engineering planetary solutions for environmental problems.” The same configurations, as identified by Hultman in relation to climate change, are also evident in the way in which technology, both parametric and BIM, have come to be incorporated in architectural discourse, practice and firm workflows.

Digital-technical masculinities easily, and perhaps all too easily, applies to the existence of this new kind of digital superhero in architecture; who, through a immersive engagement and devil’s pact with future technologies, will eventually overcome the volatile economics situation that most small firms are subject to.

In Hultman’s own words “Masculinities are understood as always-in-the-making and part of material semiotic antagonistic discourses, which are an embodied nature of knowledge, materiality and meaning.” This sounds very familiar to me: The digital super hero is always in a state of “always-in-the-making” ; both a part of and producing embodied and material technical discourses; always antagonistic to traditional workflows and other perceived enemies.

General advice

The construction of the architectural identity, too often than not as a reactive response to the need to survive economically should be regarded as being problematic and contested rather than being seen as a singular, holistic and a stable domain. Architects have always been vulnerable to vagaries of fame and not immune to the digital celebrity, influencer and thought leader. As a small firm steer clear of the prevailing fashions and the obvious. Don’t opt for easy, or naïve, off the-shelf-ideas branding. Strategic branding for the longer term of a practice is a difficult issue. Your brand needs to be both authentic and memorable; It also needs to burn a hole in the brains of those who have no regard for design.

Finally, and perhaps this goes without saying, but it keeps needing to be said, that the identities that we privilege in architectural discourse need to be more inclusive of difference. The recognition of collaborative practice is perhaps one way forward. Simply recognisi Read more

Surviving the Design Studio: On NOT Seeing REM when he is in town.

Rem Koolhaas is in my small city on the outer edges of the global architectural galaxy and his upcoming lecture at MSD is so popular I can’t get a ticket. Thankfully, there is a live stream. Not that I tried that hard to get a ticket, but now I feel a bit guilty, shouldn’t I be hanging out and rubbing shoulders with the celebrity architects like REM? Last night REM opened the M Pavilion and my Facebook and Instagram feeds were suddenly full of Rem, the pavilion and his partner in crime. I missed out on seeing Ai Wei Wei in person at our National Gallery last year and it was like everyone I knew had a selfie with him.

Hopefully, NOT being seen, in the same big M Pavilion or in the same lecture theatre as REM would not kill my own cult like status as a blogger or researcher interested in the socio-material practices and histories of architects . For a moment I thought that, given that I am increasingly keen on ethnographic studies and sociological perspectives on the architectural profession, maybe I could do a kind of ethnographic study, of trying to meet the big star architect who comes to town. But I am thinking it’s now too late to do that.

I told myself to forget the angst, envy and the hand wringing and to calm down about not seeing HIM. Not seeing REM in person wasnt the end of the  world. Besides, I was just coming off a teaching intensive, needed to get a few research projects actually running and worse still: it is the school holidays, and I feel I have to keep an eye on the teenager, lest he indulge in anti-social activities whilst he is waiting for his enlistment papers from the ADF.

I took a few  a few deep breaths and began to think about the tropes and characteristic images that we seem to follow in our feeds, and give authority to in our profession as architects. I began to wonder if we were stuck I some kind of media cycle which has a recurring narrative when a global brand comes to town.  This loose assertion of course is based on my own experience and when I was a student, in the 80s, we had this thing called the International Lecture Series it was great and we saw lectures by amongst others: Eisenman, Ito, Hasegawa, Stern, Shinohara, Prix, Cook and even Graves. After seeing so many I figured out that the general order of events for the star architects visit goes something like this:

  1. Arrival.
  2. Public Lecture.
  3. Dinner with notables.
  4. Visit to see architects buildings.
  5. Round table seminar.
  6. Studio Crit
  7. Everyone goes home.

There was usually some kind of controversy with each visit either a salacious scandal (leg propositions under the table) or clash of egos between global shark and provincial fish (It’s also good to make sure your star does not get run over).

But of course bodies, and gestures and fashion is a big part of the star’s visit. What are they wearing? How thin are they? Is it Comme de Garcons, or the last gasp of Marithe and Francois Girbaud, or Gucci shoes? Thinking all this, made me think about the recurring images and tropes or architects that seem to appear in our feeds in this media age of Trump. In order to promote media literacy here are here are a few recurring images for your amusement:

1.The architect at the drawing board 

TV series the Brady Bunch really set the tone for a whole lot of misconceptions and myths in popular culture about architects.

brady_den_16

2. The architect as rock star 

FLW and RW

 

3. Architect as James Bond 

DC and PS

4. Looking right at you architect visionaries and composers 

MB, DC and PC.

5. The olden days architectural project meeting

Brady Bunch, Corbusier at UN, FLW and NASA Engineers for comparison.

6. Project meeting’s now

BIM meeting, “inclusive” meeting and normal meeting.

7. Architects all over it 

Bjarke and WorldCraft

493122029_640

Most of us who can’t see REM are maybe  too busy at this time of year with the kids in the school holidays to see him. But if I did go and see REM, and yes I am going to look at the live feed, it would be great if he came to town wearing an an outfit like Leigh Bowery below. Or at the least a special royal and kingly crown, as Philip Johnson, that most subversive of architects, managed to pull off. Maybe then, I might take the global system of our discipline more seriously.

09-Fergus_Greer_Leigh_Bowery_Session_III_Look_11__August_1990__From_the_series_Leigh_Bowery_Looks

Architects and the branding of the new Ecocity: The need to dismantle the greenwash

We have just had the Ecocity 2017 world summit or conference in my city. Al Gore came to speak about his work and he received an honorary doctorate from my university. I didn’t attend the conference but the spin round it prompted me to think a bit about what an Ecocity might be. It made me think how architects and urbanists should respond or think about the Ecocity concept.

Since 1990 the ECOCITY World brand has claimed to address “the way humanity builds its home — its  cities, towns and villages.” Interestingly, the Ecocity brand is promoted as a series as if it was some kind of global franchise:

“The series focuses on key actions cities and citizens can take to rebuild our human habitat in balance with living systems, and, in the process, slow down and even reverse global heating, biodiversity collapse, loss of wilderness habitat, agricultural lands and open space, and social and environmental injustices.”

I worry that the Ecocity brand nexus of neoliberal policies, big property linked to the markets, and what I would call the “smart” and “sustainable” city industry is only leading us down the Business As Usual path to climate catastrophe. For some of your reading this, in mentioning the C word (catastrophe), I am going to sound uncool and alarmist. But maybe that is the reality and maybe since  Nicolas Stern’s The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review neoliberal and oh-so-nice, left of centre policy makers, have really been compromised.

 It’s always great to talk about cities as ecosystems or as places full of so-called smart sustainable infrastructure. There is a lot of that talk in my architecture school about this. But, is this enough? Do we really need cities; and in the Anthropocene, is it wise to conceive of cities as ecosystems. Doesn’t this conceptual act place our own species with a role at the center of the natural world. Are we really at the center?

A recent book by Derek Jensen the radical environmentalist also raises the above questions. He argues that sustainability is now a devalued term. He writes about what he calls the conservation-industrial complex:

“big green organizations, huge “environmental” foundations, neo-environmentalists, some academics–which has co-opted too much of the movement into “sustainability,” with that word being devalued to mean “keeping this culture going as long as possible.” Instead of fighting to protect our one and only home, they are trying to “sustain” the very culture that is killing the planet. And they are often quite explicit about their priorities.”

Jensen, argues for, and imagines, an end to “technologized, industrialized civilization and a return to agrarian communal life.” Of course to the well-heeled policy urbanists this is a seemingly extreme view. But nonetheless, it is a view, that at this point in time, I am drawn drawn to. It reminds me a bit of the urban efforts and gestures of the architects Leon and Rob Krier to return us to a pre-industrial urbanism. So what exactly would be wrong with such a return? 

Another author of interest to me in this debate is late Australian philosopher Val Plumwood. Plumwood questions what she denoted as hyperseperation. Hyperseparation gives rise to the dominant structures that drive binaries such as, nature-culture, matter-mind and savage-civilised. In the context of the Ecocities debate we run the risk of simply arrogating all mind to our own species and seeing everything else as mindless matter. Matter, as exemplified by the cities formed in our own image. These Ecotopias, Ecopositive cities and Ecocities are now crowding out our social media feeds, and these imagined cities are too often image-cities emptied of, and destructive of, real ecologies.

A real debate around cities needs to merge that examines how cities might be dismantled and decolonized and how we might see them less as machines of innovation and capital. At the conference the academic program looked like more of the same old pap: Densification, greening the cities or “Bringing Nature Back In”, resilience, healthy cities, new forms of co-operation and sustainable food production. Certainly there was some good stuff in the conference around the First Nations and those other real cities, the organic informal cities full of inequalities.

But, in the face of climate change and the loss of actual and real ecosystems, habitats and species, outside of our existing cities there is only so much of this pap I can take. A few papers held glimmer of hope about new research agendas and questioning of this prevailing, and increasingly branded paradigm. I guess the image that headlined the conference (ably devised by Simon Cookes) of chucking plants onto concrete buildings and rooftops kind of says it all for me.

As architects and urbanists we need to explore the dynamics and effectiveness of architecture in relation to the real and deeper ecologies than just greening up the cities in Photoshop. This also means having a debate around how we might dismantle the cities and explore new forms of settlement. We need to dismantle the greenwash.

The Rise of the Box Building: Bananas in Pajamas and BIM software.

I fear that the latest digital software dictates our design decisions without architects really thinking that much about it. Instead of jumping on the new great new BIM technology bandwagon we need a different debate.  I worry that some of the readers of this blog may be a bit tired of my seemingly old school rants about the hazards of digital technologies and design. But they need to be voiced, or written about, before it is too late. Architects need to resist architectural design and design knowledge becoming a sub-system of a commodified production process. Debating the merits of the prevalent software brands is critical to developing a resistance to anything that diminishes our field of knowledge.

B1 and B2: The predominant global software brands 

Let’s call the two predominant software tools beloved by our profession B1 (Trade name of large white almost extinct animal) and B2 (Weird trade name that conjures up Cousin IT). How did our discourse become beholden to these global brands? In order to protect the guilty, I prefer not to name them by their trademarked and branded names. That would give their developers too much dignity. You can work out who I mean.

Like the Bananas in Pohjamas, also named B1 and B2, both are entities that are the result of the new digital media arena that architects work in. A landscape, dare I mention it, intertwined with the emerging digital-military complex. I wont dwell on this broader point, as today I would like to focus a bit on the hazards of B2.

Firstly, for those readers who need further prompting, B1 is a software brand with animal logo of an almost extinct mammal. In total, there are only about 20,000 of the white species of animal left. B1 allows you to design and create plastic and fluid curves and shapes. Arguably, and supposedly, B1 allows you to generate a design. The emphasis here being on the word generation.

The B2 database

In contrast B2 is different to B1 it is not a modelling tool. It is essentially a database. Yes, an actual database that allows you to do some 3D drawing. You can even do 4D in B2. Wow. Googly Moogly Batman: you can slowly watch the Banana being peeled in order to meet supply chain logistics and OH&S logics. All the information created by the B2 can then be used as the B2 created banana withers and dies. All very sustainable. Or so it is claimed.

B2 does have some add-ons which augment it. But in the rush for technical skills, and post graduation jobs, many students and indeed studios are being hampered by the lack of generative capability. Disturbingly, I am starting to see more and more design studios employing the B2 software tool as a generative and primary tool. No conceptual drawing, no generative diagrams, no annotated sketches, no exploration of options, no physical models. Just jump in and start the model.

CAD and BIM Monkey Magic

Who needs the fluff of design when you need the BIMMY B2 skills to get a job, to become a CAD BIM monkey eating B2 bananas. Who needs that when you can quickly whip up an orthogonal framework and put stuff into it. Yes, using B2 in a design studio you can quickly develop a convincing orthogonal structural frame; and a so-called system; and  lo and behold fill your overall frames with some little boxes; or even slightly bigger boxes; Holey Moley Batman these could be rooms: you can then easily pretend you have designed and actual building. A building that is little more than an overall orthogonal frame filled in with boxes and frames and segments.

Pleasuring the reward centres 

But B2, unlike B1, does not create a NURBS wonderland and it has a limited ability to manipulate individual polygons. The pleasure and experience of using B2 is quite limited. You can easily pull stuff out of the B2 database, as that is what it is made for. Coffee tables, dining tables, office tables, chairs, sofas and trees. Not to mention all sorts of windows and doors. It’s not about generative design: It’s about scrolling, clicking and selecting and then placing. Not so different to Ebay. Each time an architect undertakes this process in building a digital model, a reward pulse goes from your eyes once the database object is placed, to the reward centres of your brain. You then feel good using a database even though you have populated your building model with slop. You feel like you have achieved something. You feel as if the model you are working on is real.

Architectural Design requires thought and effort to conceive, generate, manipulate and then recast. It is an iterative process. Sometimes, two steps forward and one step back. The upshot is that with software tools like B2, limit this process, and encourage the least course of resistance to be followed in the design process. Architectural studios and graduate schools are quickly becoming populated with the results of an over use of B2. Our discipline is getting getting swamped with B2 boxes.

A guide to recognising the B2 designed Box

These projects are B2-like boxes, they are easily recognised, and the following guide should help you to spot them as well.

1. They are boxes: Usually with a few additions and subtractions. Addition, subtraction, orthogonal segmentation and division are about the limits of compositional nuance. Of course, you might find a few abberrant curves, But these will be outliers.

2. They are boxes: The box finishes at the lines of its border. Everything is contained within and there is no effort to either extend or consider how the design might extend into or be a part of a surrounding context. No need to think of architecture’s broader urban responsibilities. The bunny is definitely in the box.

3. They are boxes: and utilise a segmentation that is commensurate with the most advanced, but simplistic, prefabricated building techniques. It’s always a melange of concrete and aluminium panels. No need to think about constructional craft or detailing. Its flat packed world of timber and chipboard.

4. They are boxes: and whilst a section may have been cut through the model for display, it is at worst a section that shows an undifferentiated layer cake of walls and ceilings, at best a few gaps have been dropped out or erased to make some interior spaces. There is no crafting, shaping and contouring of sections.

5. They are boxes: The only light that illuminates these creations is the final oh-so-awful V-Ray renders. B2 software does not allow the architect to think about how light might enter or be manipulated in these toxic creations. I mean who cares. You can’t dial up or select actual light from the database.

6. They are boxes: They are dumb and inchoate boxes that have abandoned architectural theory and history except in the most superficial way. There are no cultural tones or thoughts in these creations. No authentic design research and experiment. They are lacking in irony and there is never any subversive hint or self-awareness in their own making. I hate it when these types of projects win prizes.

Architects decried the modernist box of the 1950s international style. But these new boxes are more insidious. Who needs a critical theory of architecture when you can appease your pleasure centres by using a cool database. Who needs theory when you can be part of the B2 Banana cult future.

A future that is a retrograde technological utopia devoid of architecture.

 

Tribes, Warlords and Transformers: Which architectural practice are you?

After the last post, which focused on Australian Architects, I thought I would expand some of this apocalyptic thinking to the global system of architecture. Arguably, architecture is at an end because of the commodification of the services that architects provide. But the effect of neoliberal policies and market competition is more insidious than that. I think that this global system has also come to condition the very types of practices that operate within it. In the late 20th Century the heroic architect of the 20s morphed into the star architect of the late 90s and the early 2000s. But I think we also have some new practice types.

The Three Types: Tribes, Warlords, and Transformers. 

I have named the three types of practices as Tribes, Warlords and Transformers. These practices are conditioned by a survivalist mentality that accounts for architectural competition in the global system. Architects are desperately trying to survive as their knowledge and workflows are being simultaneously digitized and commoditized.  The work of Sklair, examining star architects and the work of McNeill which looks at the political and cultural economy of globalization and cities. No doubt there are others.

This impetus of market survival is evident as a result of global flows of capital pertaining to: neo-liberal policies, service disaggregation and fee for service competition. Despite its allure and heroic mythology in architectural traditions architects have in reality abandoned the old binary logic of Creative vs. Suit. In this global system there are recognizably three types of architectural firms:

Tribes 

Tribes are small community based and local practices. Their territories are local. These firms create a design knowledge ecosystem around their own local field of practice. These are small firms which develop linkages both within their teams and the communities that surround them. These firms inwardly focused and are bottom-up in they way they create design knowledge. They are collaborative and community orientated. Whilst a single designer may dominate these tribes the emphasis is on consultation. As many of these firms feel they are struggling to survive these Tribes will sometimes form together to make bigger firms.

Examples: Assemble Studio, RCR, Grupo Toma in my town we have Architecture Architecture and our very own Assemble.

Warlords

Warlords: Warlords are best exemplified by the so-called star architects. Their territories are media channels. They dominate both national and global systems. These firms create a knowledge ecosystem around themselves that is dominated by a single, style, aesthetic ideology or person. These firms create design knowledge on a project by project basis. However, the creation of design knowledge is secondary as the firm seeks legitimacy through media hits. They are focused on winning prestigious commissions and often create conflict in order to win media presence.  They are intent on creating seminal projects that build their reputation in the architectural canon.

Examples: Schumacher, in my town we have you know who, Aravena (star or tribe?) and of course the older generation of people like Gehry and the remnants of the New York Five like Meier and there is of course Rem (but I think OMA is a Transformer)

Transformers 

Are large multi-disciplinary and networked mega-firms firms that work within the global system and often across borders. These firms are predatory. They need to be to survive. Their Territories constantly captured, expanded and rebuilt. They resolves conflict in order to govern. In these firms design, knowledge, systems and governance are integrated. These firms create highly specialised design knowledge which is integrated into their own systems.  As a result these firms are large enough to anticipate, create, design and deliver large mega-projects such as urban infrastructure and cities; whether or not we need these urban products. These firms are intent on building projects that enable the firm to be continually self-sustaining. They transform as they their constituent networks ebb and flow. They are often surrounded by tribal firms that act as a Remora fish.

Examples: RMJM, Arup and Aurecon. So whats BIG, tribe, Warlord, Transformer or Mega-firm? Probably a hybrid tribe-star on the way to becoming a Transformer) Some firms are hybrids and we can see  them changing  from one type to another.

Its all about the Brand 

Certainly, an overarching institutional logic of survivalism is arguably the result of a number of factors. The changes since the 1970s in professional status as a result of neoliberal policies leading to trans-national and market competition. The loss of traditional services to other disciplines and subsequent disaggregation of full fee-for-service regimes. The rise of new technologies alongside new procurement systems have also led to the commodification of design activities and knowledge.

In this system design knowledge has been confused with branding. So I guess Tafuri, and perhaps even Guy Debord, may have been right about the intellectual work of architects after all.

Architects, Branding and Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Things are in full swing here. The place is full of students and the bicycle park is full by the time I get in everyday. I am “under the pump” as they say and this may be why there were so many typos in the first posting of this. 

Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

As a profession in some ways architects have all the characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The common complaints by clients and of course other members of the construction industry are: grandiosity, lack of empathy for others and a need for admiration; a common willingness to be arrogant, self-centred, manipulative, and demanding. This is of course a harsh assessment and many other groups in our industry also suffer from these traits. Especially, Project Managers and contractors !  People with NPD, Narcissistic Personality Disorder often believe they are superior or special. We all know people like this.

Arguably, some of these narcissistic traits are needed to get architecturally designed projects built, in a world that seems not to care about architecture, design or aesthetics. A world that really doesn’t care about design value. It may be because architects go against the normal grain of “cheaper and quicker is better,” and actually care about design, that they are seen by others as being narcissistic.

However, there is one area where I wonder if the self-regard and narcissism of architects is skewed.  This week in the MSD Architectural Practice class we ran a Q&A panel on architects and branding. One theme that came out of this panel  was the fact that architects were great at producing awesome renders and most, although I would say not all, have a pretty good idea about communications design and graphics. Yes, all of those things are taught at architecture school. We are good at building brands for other people like developers. But I think that is the problem. That’s all we architects are good at; we are only good at doing the renders and the graphics for the designs. As a result, we think we a really good at branding because these activities have visual components. But being the narcissistic profession, that we are, we then think this is all you need to do. We too often reflect and bask in the glory of our own technical skills.

Knowing a little about computer generated renders and graphic design does not necessarily mean architects know much about branding. This is an even more pressing issue as branding is now  more complicated in an era of ubiquitous computing, customised advertising, the rise influencers, the proliferation of social media channels. Data analytics of consumer preferences is now a dark art and few architects understand it. The shift to the very short digital film clip as the most common form of communication is smoething that seems to have eluded us.

Branding for architects isn’t just about a few slick images and a funny cute name. Its not something you can do in an afternoon in the office (unlike a blog full of typos).  As Verity Campbell reminded me at our Q&A session architects really need to think about how our representational, images, logos, names and graphics are seen by others. Architects need to bridge the communication gap between ourselves our clients and community.

At the firm level. 

Branding is about  distinction and positioning. What’s the point of every architect in town claiming to do sustainable design. When I searched for sustainable architects in my city I got 684,000 results in less than a second. I couldn’t believe this search result. Whats the point of doing a website that seems more like a hodge-podge of quirky graphics that does your head in when your cursor tries to engage with it. Or loads so slowly you have a aneurysm waiting. At my age aneurysms are a real issue when you are looking at slow moving web sites. All of  this hokey pokey branding schmaltz is like the caricature of the architect with the Corbusian glasses in black with the Comme des Garcon jacket driving to the site meeting in a Citroen.

As noted at our panel architects need to develop marketing and branding techniques that uniquely position themselves. This is a common error. For example when you find blurbs on websites like this. (I have redacted a few things to avoid mutual embarrassment).

and the combined experience of the office ranges from significant major projects in Melbourne, to many small and site specific projects, and international works. Our activity, interests and expertise, ranges from urban design to interiors and furniture – architecture in its broad sense.

We bring design to a broad set of situations and audiences, including peripheral locations, difficult problems and tight budgets. We aim for our work to participate in the widest environment it can; in new forms of communication, in sensitive natural environments, new types of cities, and with ordinary life.

Yip. All things to all people. Everywhere. How can the above be seen as effective branding? Yet, this is the mistake that is commonly made. I am sick of reading about what architects could do: Anything you ask them to do apparently? Or what they are like: creative, smart, experienced etc. etc. Most potential clients probably what to know what architects are doing, what they have done and how they are actually different to the tens of thousands of other sustainable design orientated architects in the universe. Maybe this is why I like the Assemble web site so much as a model.

At the community level

Our professional associations need to get much better at marketing and promoting architecture. Lamb does it and now they kind of own Australia Day. I am actually not sure how many punters are going to get to this “find your architect” AIA page  deep inside what is essentially an industry association website.

The AIA 2017 National conference is called PRAXIS. Holy Sardine Batman ! At least there is a bit of diversity in the speaker line up. Of course, when I think of the word PRAXIS I think of Deleuze & Guattari. But its just lots of architects talking about architecture. At least you get a tax deduction. Maybe the conference needs to include more punters, more real people, more politicians, policy experts, and more decision makers and be seen as means to market what we are as a profession to these broader groups.

In Australia the individual AIA chapters have Twitter accounts, the  National AIA Twitter account seems to have tweets few and far between. The account that has over 23,000 followers but just seems to feature a lot of stuff about the AIA conference and little that would be engaging to the punters, decision-makers or any one else for that matter. It’s a real snooze fest.

There is no obvious involvement through these channels in promoting architecture as anything beyond a kind of slick image marketing brochure. No wonder the punters think we work for the rich Kardashians. There is no deeper engagement, through all of these channels, with the policies and dilemmas of architecture in our time. I know I am biased but Parlour is a much better model of how to do things. At least the Parlour Instagram account doesn’t send you to sleep.

The last upload to the AIA Youtube site was about 2 months ago. Whoops that was the wrong link ! Here is the real AIA website. This doesn’t really appear to be a direct or crafted communications strategy that would link architects to anyone, except for maybe: other architects. No wonder we are too often, and unfairly, regarded as narcissistic out of touch idiots. At least we are fashionably dressed and have nice, although ineffective, websites.

 

 

 

 

 

Hair Wars: Hair and Australian Architects or why I never made the grade as a star architect.

One of my most popular posts in 2016 was the one about Bjarke Ingels being evil because he had hair. But then I thought what about Australian architects. How much hair do they have? What about their hair? How is Australian Architectural hair portrayed in the media and across social media? As a result, I decided to conduct a few Google experiments. With the research aim to explore how the hair of Australian architects is portrayed on the web. Like all good researchers I needed a hypothesis a methodology and a few methods. My hypothesis is that architects with hair get more hits on social media. My  broad methodology is to focus on notions of identity and how these are constructed within architectural discourse. As for methods a bit of Google Image search combined with a visual analysis. In doing this I referred to some diagrams about male pattern baldness (myself being a prime example).

pattern-hair-loss

Google Search: Australian Architects (searched 170217 1.31pm

  1. Glenn Murcutt
  2. Jorn Utzon
  3. Robin Boyd
  4. Harry Seidler
  5. Roy Grounds
  6. Nonda Katsalidis
  7. Walter Burley Griffin
  8. Francis Greenaway
  9. Philip Cox

It was a relief to me as they pretty much all had hair undergoing various stages of Male Pattern Baldness. Numbers 5 and Numbers 6 seemed to have the most hair. It goes without saying that its shockingly amazing that even Google doesnt include female Australian architects when you do this kind of search.

Google search: Top 10 Australian Architects (searched 170217 1.40pm)

  1. Glenn Murcutt
  2. Sean Godsell
  3. Philip Cox
  4. Robin Boyd
  5. Harry Seidler
  6. Jorn Utzon
  7. Nick Murcutt
  8. frederik Romberg
  9. Roy Grounds
  10. Edmund Blacket

and with this search something weird  happened. Suddenly an insurgent with lots of hair jumped up to second place on the list.

I then decided to search just in Google Images  (searched 170217 2.30pm) rather than Google.

Google Image search: Best Australian Architects (searched 170217 3.00pm)

In this search you get a lot of buildings but of course only one Australian architect features and that is Peter Stutchbury who admittedly has a pretty good ahead of hair (as does his comrade Richard Leplastrier)

leplastrier-and-stutchbury

These are of course Sydney architects. Before I write any more I need to make a disclaimer which is this: At my tribal architecture school in the 80s one of the first things we learnt was to hate, and I mean really HATE, Sydney architects. Despite my biases a kind of Roland Barthes semiotic analysis seems appropriate here. There is certainly no sign of Brylcreem or Hair  Dye in this image. These architects are in some ways proto-hipsters. These men appear to be the very negative of the urbane, metropolitan, Don Draper suited 50s and 60s architect like Gary Cooper in the Fountainhead or indeed some of the architects in the above lists like Robin Boyd, Harry Seidler or the seemingly avuncular Roy Grounds.

Nup these guys are wild architects with all that hair: Raw, mountain men, lumberjack architects, with natural poetic instincts and urges, the very antithesis of the cosmopolitan architect; they appear to be flaunting an organic and seemingly natural sexuality and masculinity. Satyrs in the woodland with set squares. Its all a bit too Norsca Soap like for me, and even the work of these architects is kind of entwined with the myths of Scandanavia and the scarves, for some unknown reason, start to remind me of the columns in Alvar Aalto’s Villa Maireia. 

498072

When he was younger Stutchbury, who was born in 1954, looked like this (what is he looking at?). I  was surprised to find this image so easily on the web.

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Stutchbury 

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Raisbeck 

I had hair as well when I was young as you can see from the above comparative photo of me in the 70s at my outer suburban high school. So its interesting to wonder why our own practice never got up and running. I mean I had long hair as well. But actually the reason is probably very obvious. Firstly, I lost my hair and I was also confused about the semiotic identity I wanted to portray as an architect. This is fairly obvious in this picture of me below from architecture school in the mid to late 80s. Little wonder I never made the top 10 Google list.

raisbeck_2

I was already loosing my hair then. Plus, I had obvious aligned my self with the cosmopolitan urban intellectual types rather than the organic FLW loving mountain men. But the tie was all wrong. No wonder I never got into the club. At night I wonder if our practice had done better if I had retained my hair and somehow gone the long hair silver mountain man foxy route. Or worn a straighter tie.

As my friends will now I have kind of re-invented myself a few times now. And as I noted last time our wrote about this kind of stuff in the Bjarke blog: The construction of the architectural identity should be regarded as being problematic and contested rather than being seen as a singular, holistic and a stable domain. As architects in this age of, oh so awful, celebrity we need to foster debates around the real laws, and dilemmas of architectural design our cities.

It perhaps goes without saying, but it keeps needing to be said, that the identities that we privilege in architectural discourse need to be more inclusive of difference. The recognition of collaborative practice is one way forward. But in the swamplands of social media a constant critique and dismantling of the rhetorical images that are presented to us is essential and necessary. Otherwise, the rhetorical idealisation of the architectural identity will continue to corrupt our discipline and architectural education. It’s time for the the cult of architectural celebrity to die. The mountain men architects like to think they are poets but they are really just celebrities.

Its been crazy here as I prepare for the students and substantially revamp my Architectural Practice course which starts in two weeks. Notably, I have prerecorded 9 lectures and have another 9 to do. It will be an interesting experiment in online teaching models. This will give me more time to run an actual tutorial in the subject and organise the guest lectures. This year we will also have a number of Q&A style panel sessions which we will advertise here and elsewhere.