Into a new decade, and with a newer take on everything Architecture and Design after the pandemic hit, 2021 has begun being quite kind to our discipline. And whilst we stayed home for almost a year, we remained connected to one another through the internet, particularly through platforms like Zoom. 

Design and Architecture in the era of Instagram: A Critical Perspective
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Similarly, there has been a massive surge in the usage of other social media applications during lockdowns all over the world, Instagram being the most pivotal amongst them. The platform is known for its minimalist features enabling users to share photos, videos, and other visual content. 

Instagram is primarily of interest to Architects, Designers, and other creative professionals, as it enables easy networking of like-minded people. It becomes even more effortless for designers to find new clients to hire them, as their profiles would reflect the kind of work they do, thus bridging a wide gap that exists between creatives and the clientele. 

Notwithstanding all these traits that make Instagram a handy tool for Architects, there do exist certain notions revolving around it, a few trends and shifts that deserve relooking into, particularly having emerged over the last few years. Here follows a critical take on how Instagram has impacted and influenced in such ways, its creative users: Architects and Designers in specific, and the dichotomies it brings along.

Democratized Design vs. Short Sightedness in perceiving Architecture

One central stereotype that Instagram has very much eliminated is the hegemony of Architecture Magazines, Design Publications, and Issues. Even just a decade back, only the big names in the Architecture media and their associated publishing houses had all the voice for recognizing and celebrating good Architecture, whilst the time and effort that went into coming into such a spotlight was in itself humongous, sometimes just not possible at all.

Thanks to Instagram, anybody and everybody is capable of expressing and sharing what good Architecture is. We could now see dozens and dozens of pages that curate good content on design projects and built environments around the world. They are not just for recognition by other Architects and creatives alone: this avenue brings Architecture and Design as close to everyone as possible. One only has to hit a follow button and sit back to see impressive builtscapes. Although other social media platforms have initiated such a shift, we could only say that Instagram has taken the same to its utmost pinnacle.

True, on the one hand, design has now been democratized for everyone to curate, comment, and express their opinions on. Whilst on the other, the degree to which such opinions and views resonate on what the piece of Architecture intends to do in the long term, one could say, has only diminished. Architecture is purely reduced to its visual elements at play, whereas the entire notion of how space can positively impact its users, lacks by great lengths. Instagram culture has made it that people consume creative content at extremely rapid rates, whilst the average attention span given to each image, post, or work is very minimal. 

Architecture is at the mercy of how quickly the user swipes down to go to the next post, and on and on it goes. This leaves design in a position where it is rendered incapable of wholly expressing what it is up to. Following this is a wide array of opinions, comments, and an occasional half-baked critique, most of which are outright shortsighted. This makes even good Architecture hard to recognize because its spatial attributes are not equally manifested in an Instagram post, as in reality.

The Visual vs. Only the Visual

That Instagram is a platform for anybody to share, there are particular ways in which Architects and Student Architects use them to exhibit their skills in design. As aforementioned, a prime objective for a firm’s Instagram page, most of the time, is to seek out clients for executing projects. This mandates that Architects express their talent in a way that the client understands, for it is not for them to look at the detailed drawings that designers typically create as part of their workflow. 

This one factor majorly heralds the excessive prevalence of photorealistic renders and hyper-real images in the profiles of Architects. Again, the dichotomy persists: doing so is a great way of attracting potential clients; also, doing so would mean that we only celebrate those notions of a design that are photogenic, flashy, whilst explicitly overshadowing other factors that solve actual design problems. Consequently, this misguides people: a lot of spatial and functional facets that Architecture is supposed to address are simply overlooked, further pushing design only to the realm of the visual.

This culture sets into motion other trends within the Architecture community: with the pandemic at hand, there has been an increased obsession towards learning new software and workflows that enable creating such hyper-real renders and visuals. Although they are essential skills required these days, it makes a considerable portion of young professionals in our discipline become just Instagram Architects and Instagram Designers, where building a strong grid of images on one’s personal feed becomes much more important than learning to solve real-world problems. Students of Architecture are driven more towards learning to make images and renders of spaces, than actual spaces.

Software aiding in Design vs. Software aiding in Instagram growth

The rise in the incorporation of computers and digital workflows, from conception to completion of Architectural projects has greatly revolutionized the way we design and build. Newer dimensions like AR, VR, and XR are making their way into multiple disciplines, the AEC industry included. Ever since the past decade, knowing to use software in design has been as equally essential as knowing to sketch with a pencil on paper. 

The kinds of software that Architects use have quite varied over time: starting from those intended for 2D drafting and basic modeling, the range goes on to include ones for NURBS modeling, polygon modeling, 3D animation, etc.., to more recently, software intended for character sculpting, motion design and VFX like Pixologic ZBrush and SideFX Houdini. 

Within the purview of our deliberation, the past few years have been greatly momentous in the advent of newer, more sophisticated software applications within the design discourse. Utilizing them has only made designers rethink the existing definitions of what is conventionally deemed Architecture. Likewise, output from such workflows are extensively hyper-real, flashy, and sometimes out of this world. 

One way to view it: such works may be regarded to push the boundaries of existing norms and beliefs in what constitutes Architecture, sometimes even revered to be avant-garde. Another way to view it: such works are only results of the software that Architects came to master, not Architecture itself. 

Within our discourse, they are said to constitute Design Fiction and the designers creating such work identify as post-digitalists, with their works being backed by design theories and literature in the said domain. Such profoundly pan-digital workflows venture much closer to being 3D art than Architecture, a prime reason being their almost absent buildability, and their ability to be experienced through Virtual Reality. They can however be deemed “good for the ‘gram” and them being so radical, whilst still belonging to the design domain has rendered them highly popular, both on Instagram, and on other online platforms.

Nurtured by Instagram, this trend has a commendable potential in shaping what forms Architecture and Design will embrace in the coming years.

What lies ahead

As stated earlier, Instagram is a really powerful tool that betters the lives of creatives all around the world. It does have its fair share of ups and downs, and one could say, it is upon creators and curators to make sure that Architecture on Instagram is not always flashy and cool, but also thoughtful, conveying, and above all expressive of its true capabilities.

In a world that has never been more dynamic and fast-changing than now, Architecture and Design shall be better conveyed through the right tools, in a way that it is spatially, formally, functionally, and aesthetically justifiable.

 

Harish Karthick Vijay
Author

Still a student midway in his Undergrad, Harish interests himself in using the medium of the Written Word and believes in innovation and tech to venture beyond irrelevant status quos in Design and Architecture. He aspires to expand the reach of our disciplinepast just cities, to the non-urbanas well. He feels that the design discourse does not have enough professional critics, and wishes to become one someday!

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