“We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media; the question is how well we do it.”
Architecture adjusts, Architecture blends, and Architecture even transforms; but Architecture must never compromise. It is in creating a parody of exemplar structures that design loses its essence. Simply articulating them is what gives meaning to the art. Being influential is not just for large masses but if your work inspires even one person among thousands, you, my friend, are a successful influence. Social media gives you that power. However, it can make or break.
Living in the 21st century, with easy access to everything without having to move an inch seems to be a cakewalk. But is it truly as magical and effortless as it sounds? Magical, yes! Effortless, well, not really. With a population of 7 billion people, being “not just another brick in the wall” isn’t easy. With 3.8 billion people across the globe using social media, you are one click away from stimulating what could be a potential revolution. Now, speaking solely about Architecture and how the trends are influenced by social media the primary highlight should be about the fact that, Architecture is the art and science of designing buildings and architectural works are often thought of as cultural and political symbols. In short, Architecture is an identity.
“Interest is created by association.” –Philip Johnson
The timeless architect Philip Johnson believes that Architects must draw inspiration from the latest and greatest; that is the mantra to stay young and current. Social media is a media that is updated by the second. This has caused people to run out of patience. Everything needs to be lightning-fast or they’ll lose interest. This is exactly how Architecture works. Monotony does not keep one’s mind engaged. Every few minutes there needs to be something different….dynamic. Nevertheless, this does not fool people into believing anything and everything that you sell. People want to know the unveiling mechanics behind a project. What, why, and how are few of the many questions they have begun asking. It isn’t just about the final output anymore.
This is one trend that social media has influenced; disclosing the process of the projects, even the faults. So a young Architect will know the dos and don’ts of the field. Transparency is lost. Everyone knows what’s on the inside. Much like a stable transparent political party, a transparent Architectural design is a victorious one. This has led to architects designing more open floor plans; spaces that can be rearranged to handle different functions. One interesting example of this is the Arnhem Central Station. This having a designated function of a “station” is now used for multiple functions like dance and music performances, flashmobs even, after just one social media post of a few youngsters having performed a gig there that brought in a lot of positive attention over to this structure. Social media lets people perceive freely. They have the complete liberty to relate to a space in a way apart from the designated activity. This allows people to give personalized reviews; positive or even brutal ones. Typically in places like restaurants, where a good ambience plays a role equivalent to good food, people’s reviews give an idea of what really is a layman’s expectation.
Communication is the most important platform that social media provides. Considering the recent devastating floods in Assam, India, the blast at Beirut, Lebanon, or even the widespread pandemic of the coronavirus, the necessary structural needs can be communicated. Through social media, various organizations host competitions, not only for professionals but even for students to come up with the best architectural solutions for problems, economically. This boosts the creativity of people and is also a great way to contribute to a disaster; Doing your bit. Hypothetically speaking, without social media, a 2nd-year student of architecture in Indonesia with all the possible potential would be unable to be a winner of the ‘Best Quarantine Facility Design’ competition hosted in Italy. Today, architects are learning to make designs more people-centric. More than creating a statement structure, they aim at creating an exceptional user experience. And creating the perfect user experience is not the job of one but is a team effort. Through social media, an architect in one continent can contact and gain access to a sculptor, painter, or furniture designer from another continent, whose work is synonymous with the former, and this helps create a complete package of a beautiful, meaningful space. Thus, social media allows long-distance collaboration.
“Leave the past behind” is not what architecture is about, it’s more about “what goes along, comes along.” Ideas, concepts, designs, that people identify with, relate to, must not be forgotten, but must be implemented today in its own contemporary way, not duplicated. These are tried and tested techniques and they work well even today. Social media has the potential to bring into the limelight, the best from the past to educate people. Collaborating ancient designs with new materials or vice versa results in something new altogether. Trial and error is a gift for architects as they seem to stumble upon something unexpected during the process that turns out to be a magnificent creation. Being up to date with environmentally friendly materials and technology, getting in touch with small scale local artisans, building and designing with a recyclable mindset is all possible with social media.
Gender equality within the field; creating a balanced ratio of male to female architects is one more aspect that social media has made possible. Recognizing works of women, giving them the necessary exposure, appreciating and honouring them for their contribution is what will lead the world to be a better place. Out of several women in the profession with the calibre, Zaha Hadid was one of the very few who is reputed because of her dynamic work. Why do women have to go the extra mile to get the necessary recognition but men in the field with repetitive work get honoured nonetheless? Activists on social media fight for this. Stand up for a cause. Appreciate simple contributions however minuscule they may appear.
Now, coming to Virtual Reality, SARA, a mobile application, is used to scan a building giving instant access to a 3D model with layers of building development and its architect’s entire digital presence on-line, transforming the way users connects with their built environment. This unique Virtual Reality development has been done by the Netherlands Architecture Institute. Another experiment of this kind is Datagrove, a media installation by Future cities lab about online activities mirroring to a material level, which can actively transform the characteristics of our surroundings and social relations within society. The physical and audible representation of the invisible social media, Datagrove broadcasts trending phrases from the nearby environment and creates a space for the public to gather in a small shelter for contemplation and exchange data while they laugh through conversations. Virtual Reality is where we are headed to, Rethinking the future.
But, one must also understand that social media has the ability to mask, twist, and erase important data altogether. Learning how to showcase something correctly, interpreting a fellow artist rightly, not designing simply for a 2D Instagram image, and putting your complete soul into every design is what Architecture is about and this should never be lost in the glamour of social media.