In this exclusive interview, we have the privilege of delving into the dynamic and accomplished career of Daniela Silva, a Portuguese architect, researcher, and writer whose multifaceted and international journey in the world of architecture has left an indelible mark. With a passion for both practice and academia, Daniela has not only designed innovative structures but has also contributed significantly to architectural discourse and education. Her work and writings have been celebrated in publications, lectures, and exhibitions, showcasing her profound insights into the field.
Daniela’s commitment to architectural education is evident through her roles as a guest critic, lecturer, invited teacher, and juror at prestigious institutions like the Berlin International University of Applied Sciences, the University of Kingston, and Shandong Jianzhu University. Her influence extends beyond the classroom as she serves as a jury member for renowned international Architecture and Design Awards, including Architizer’s A+Awards, UNI, and the A’Design Award and Competition.
Currently, Daniela expertly balances her time between her architectural practice in Lisbon and her pursuit of a Ph.D. in Digital Architecture at ISCTE, where she explores the cutting-edge intersections of technology and design. Moreover, she takes on the role of curator and research manager for the innovative online platform Non Architecture, demonstrating her dedication to pushing the boundaries of architectural creativity.
Additionally, Daniela is an integral part of DigitalFUTURES, an independent online platform dedicated to advancing architectural education in the digital age. Her contributions as a writer to international architecture and design magazines such as CLOT Magazine and Architecture Hunter further amplify her impact and reach within the architectural community.
Since 2018, Daniela has embraced yet another facet of her diverse career by becoming involved in the Arquiteturas Film Festival as an assistant producer, cementing her status as a true visionary in the world of architecture and design. In this interview, Daniela Silva will share her insights, experiences, and vision for the future of architecture, providing a unique glimpse into the mind of a remarkable professional who continues to shape the architectural landscape on a global scale.
RTF: Hi Daniela, we are so glad to have you as a guest on Future Talks. Thanks for joining us. You started as an architect and gradually became involved in writing and publishing content. What propelled you towards writing?
Daniela: I’m delighted to be here, thank you for having me! Interestingly, my journey into writing started precisely because I was not very good at it. In architecture, as in many other professions, being able to communicate your ideas clearly is crucial. I realized that to be a better architect and researcher, I needed to improve my writing skills.
So, I took it upon myself to practice by writing articles, essays, and opinion pieces, even when it wasn’t required for my architectural projects. I started submitting my texts to various magazines and online platforms, and yes, I faced a lot of rejections initially. But each rejection was a learning opportunity, a form of training, so to speak.
Over time, not only did my writing improve, but I also found that I had developed a genuine passion for it. This passion made the process enjoyable and that, in turn, made me even more committed to honing my skills.
Fast forward to today, and I’m fortunate enough to have a substantial body of work published both online and in print. The process has been incredibly fulfilling, and it complements my work in architecture and research in a beautiful way. It’s been a long journey, but I couldn’t be happier with where it has led me.
RTF: What does the balancing act of being an architect and a writer look like?
Daniela: Balancing the roles of an architect and a writer is both challenging and rewarding. I thrive on doing multiple things—it keeps me engaged and motivated. What’s even more exciting is that these different facets of my professional life actually communicate with each other in unexpected and enriching ways. My writing informs my architectural practice by compelling me to think deeply and articulate clearly about design principles, urban issues, and the impact of architecture on society. Conversely, my experience in architectural design and research enriches my writing, providing me with unique insights and a hands-on perspective that I can share with my readers.
However, it’s important to acknowledge that juggling both roles demands a significant level of dedication and time management. It’s a lot of work, no doubt about it. I often find myself navigating tight deadlines, varied responsibilities, and shifting priorities. But that’s exactly what keeps me on my toes and makes each day different from the last.
So, while it can be taxing at times, the interplay between writing and architecture has not only broadened my skills but also made me a more holistic professional. The synergy between the two is what fuels me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
RTF: How do you look upon the idea of building a personal brand as a writer or editor apart from the organizations that one works for? Can these go hand-in-hand?
Daniela: I believe that a personal brand and organizational affiliations can absolutely go hand-in-hand, although it does require some strategic thinking and careful maneuvering.
Building a personal brand is about showcasing your unique voice, insights, and expertise. It serves as a platform where you can share your viewpoints, not just on your specific industry, but also on broader themes and issues that matter to you. This provides you with a level of creative freedom and control that you might not always have when writing or editing under the umbrella of an organization.
On the flip side, being associated with reputable organizations brings its own set of advantages. It lends you credibility and opens doors to opportunities that might be hard to access otherwise. It also provides a structure and resources that can be invaluable, especially when you’re working on larger projects or in-depth research.
However, the key is to strike a balance. It’s crucial to ensure that your personal brand doesn’t clash with the ethos or objectives of the organizations you’re part of. Transparency and open communication are vital here. Before you start publishing content independently, it may be wise to consult with your organization’s guidelines or discuss your intentions with a supervisor, just to ensure that you’re both on the same page.
In the end, your personal brand can serve to enrich your organizational work, and vice versa. The unique insights and experiences you gain from one can be brought into the other, creating a virtuous cycle that benefits both you as an individual professional and the organizations you are a part of.
RTF: How has the content published been impacted by the presence of social media? What are the ‘positives’ and ‘negatives’ of it?
Daniela: The impact is profound and multifaceted. On the positive side, social media has democratized the dissemination of information and ideas. It allows for content to reach a global audience almost instantly, amplifying the reach and impact of what we write or create. For someone working in architecture and writing, platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn provide avenues for showcasing projects, sharing articles, and engaging in meaningful dialogues with both the public and professionals from various fields.
Another advantage is the real-time feedback loop. Social media allows for immediate interaction with readers, helping writers and organizations gauge public opinion, clarify points of confusion, and even gain insights that can inform future work. It also creates a space for interdisciplinary conversations, enabling people from diverse backgrounds to come together and discuss complex topics in a more accessible way.
However, there are some downsides as well. One major concern is the influence of algorithms that prioritize virality over quality or accuracy. Content can be skewed towards what is most “clickable” or “shareable,” rather than what is genuinely informative or well-researched. This creates a pressure to produce content that will perform well on social media, which can sometimes come at the expense of depth or nuance.
Another issue is the erosion of attention spans. The fast-paced nature of social media platforms, where users often scroll through endless feeds, means that long-form content or complex ideas may not receive the time and focus they deserve. This poses a particular challenge for fields like architecture and academic research, where the subject matter often requires a deeper level of engagement.
Lastly, the risk of misinformation spreading easily is ever-present. In a digital landscape where anyone can publish content, the lines between credible sources and misinformation can sometimes become blurred, requiring both writers and readers to be more vigilant.
So, while social media presents both challenges and opportunities, the key lies in understanding how to leverage its strengths while mitigating its weaknesses. As professionals, we can use these platforms to extend our reach and engagement, but we must also be cautious not to compromise the integrity of our work in the process.
RTF: With a huge number of pitches that come your way, how do you approach them? And what grabs your attention in the pitch?
Daniela: My approach is methodical: I initially skim through all pitches to get a sense of the topics and ideas being presented. Then, I go back for a more in-depth review to assess which ones align with the editorial direction, theme, or current focus of the projects I’m involved in.
Given my background and interests, what instantly grabs my attention is anything related to digital tools. I’ve always been a bit of a geek at heart, so anything that delves into the digital realm, particularly as it intersects with architecture and design, piques my interest immediately.
But it’s not just the topic that catches my eye—it’s also the originality of the pitch. In a world saturated with information, what truly stands out is something unique, something that presents a fresh perspective or an unexplored angle. When a pitch manages to introduce me to something that is completely new to me, that’s when I know I’ve stumbled upon something special. It triggers an immediate urge to delve deeper, to understand more, and eventually to write about it. These are the proposals that not only capture my attention but also make me excited about the prospect of bringing them to fruition.
RTF: We would like to get your idea of a good pitch and how you differentiate between a ‘positive’ and a ‘negative’ approach from the writers and artists.
Daniela: Over the years, I’ve come to identify some key aspects that define a ‘good’ pitch from a ‘not-so-good’ one.
A good pitch starts with clarity of thought and expression. It succinctly conveys the core idea, explains why it’s important, and outlines how it will be explored. There’s an immediate sense of what makes the idea special and why it deserves attention. In terms of subject matter, a good pitch resonates with current themes or challenges and offers an innovative approach or fresh perspective.
A positive approach in a pitch that is not only well-crafted but also well-researched. It shows that the person pitching is deeply engaged with their subject matter and has taken the time to understand the publication’s audience and editorial guidelines. Such pitches often come with a brief outline, a few key points or examples, and sometimes even a preliminary list of sources. This level of preparation indicates seriousness and professionalism, and it makes the decision-making process easier on the editorial end.
On the other hand, a ‘negative’ approach can take various forms. One common pitfall is vagueness—pitches that are unclear, overly broad, or lacking in focus. These often feel like the writer or artist is throwing an idea at the wall to see if it sticks, rather than presenting a well-considered proposal. Another negative approach is when a pitch ignores the publication’s guidelines or past content, indicating either a lack of research or a disregard for the platform’s ethos. Finally, a pitch that is overly self-promotional without offering valuable content to the reader can also be a red flag.
RTF: What are the essential components of a media kit according to you?
Daniela: A media kit serves as a comprehensive guide to who you are, what you do, and what sets you apart. While specific elements can vary depending on the industry and purpose, there are some essential components that I believe should be present in every media kit.
Firstly, a strong introduction or overview is crucial. This should encapsulate your brand identity, mission, and core values in a succinct and compelling manner. This sets the stage and provides context for the rest of the information.
Second, showcase your accomplishments, expertise, or notable projects. The goal here is to establish credibility and display a proven track record. Whether it’s highlighted through case studies, a portfolio, or testimonials, this section should make a compelling argument for why someone should want to collaborate with or feature you.
Third, a media section is important. This can include high-resolution images, videos, or other multimedia assets that can be easily downloaded and used for publication or promotional activities. This saves time for journalists, event organizers, or collaborators who may need quick access to quality media.
Finally, a list of past collaborations, media appearances, or endorsements can further boost your credibility. If you’ve been featured in prominent publications or have worked with well-known brands or influencers, highlight this information to showcase your reputation in your field.
RTF: What would you suggest to aspiring designers and creatives who wish to get their feature published in the top publications? What are some challenges in doing so?
Daniela: Getting featured in top publications is an aspiration for many designers and creatives, and rightly so. The exposure can be career-altering. My foremost piece of advice would be: persistence is key. However, persistence alone isn’t enough; it needs to be paired with strategic planning.
First and foremost, do your homework. Understand the core values, target audience, and thematic focus of the publications you want to get featured in. This ensures that you’re not just throwing your work into the void, but are actually aligning it with a platform where it resonates and adds value. Different publications have different niches, styles, and audiences. Knowing this will help you tailor your pitch and your work to better suit their specific interests.
Once you have a good grasp of what the publication values, it’s time to craft your pitch. Given that editors and publication teams receive dozens, if not hundreds, of emails and proposals daily, standing out is essential. The key here is a compelling and eye-catching presentation. What is it about your work that is new, fresh, or groundbreaking? Make that the focus of your pitch. Include high-quality images, sketches, or whatever best represents your project, and keep your email concise yet informative.
The challenges often lie in the competition and the volume of submissions these top publications receive. You’re not only competing against other aspiring designers and creatives but also established names in the industry. Moreover, editorial teams are swamped with pitches, making it easy for yours to get lost in the shuffle. This is why understanding the publication’s ethos and crafting a tailored, standout pitch are so crucial.
It’s this combination of persistence and targeted effort that will increase your chances of breaking through and getting your work featured in top publications.
RTF: What does it take for writers and editors to constantly be on the bandwagon and put up relevant content?
Daniela: Staying on the cutting edge as writers and editors in today’s fast-paced information landscape demands a multi-faceted approach. Here’s how one can continuously put up relevant content:
First and foremost is a commitment to continuous learning. Industries evolve, trends come and go, and new technologies emerge. Writers and editors must keep their fingers on the pulse of their fields, be it through industry journals, webinars, conferences, or conversations with experts. It’s not just about keeping up-to-date; it’s about being ahead of the curve whenever possible.
Another essential element is adaptability. The digital world is constantly shifting, with new platforms and media formats appearing all the time. Flexibility in both the kind of content you produce and the way you disseminate it is crucial. This could mean embracing new storytelling techniques, such as interactive articles, podcasts, or video essays, to engage with your audience in different ways.
Finally, collaboration often sparks innovation. Working with different writers, artists, or experts in the field can bring new perspectives and ideas that you might not have considered. It keeps the content fresh and provides varied viewpoints, making it more rounded and comprehensive.
RTF: What are some challenges that the interviews and general exchanges with architects and designers present?
Daniela: Certainly, conducting interviews and engaging in exchanges with architects and designers present unique challenges, particularly in the realm of publications. One of the most significant hurdles is adhering to timelines. In the world of publishing, deadlines are stringent, and delays can have a domino effect on the entire editorial calendar. This can be tricky when you’re trying to coordinate with professionals who have their own demanding schedules.
Another challenge is the necessity for multiple follow-ups. Given that everyone is so busy, it’s quite common for initial emails or interview requests to get lost in the shuffle. While following up is part of the process, it can become a tedious exercise and could potentially be perceived as bothersome by both parties involved. This can be a delicate balance to maintain, as you don’t want to alienate the very people you wish to feature, but you also have deadlines to meet.
In today’s fast-paced world, everyone’s time is at a premium. Architects and designers, like any other professionals, have packed schedules filled with projects, meetings, and other commitments. Understanding and respecting this is crucial. It requires planning interviews well in advance and being flexible wherever possible, without compromising on the publication deadlines.
So, it’s a constant juggle between maintaining editorial integrity by sticking to schedules, and respecting the time constraints of the interviewees. Despite these challenges, the richness that these conversations bring to the publication makes it all worthwhile. But it’s always a delicate balance that requires tact, planning, and, above all, respect for each other’s time.
RTF: What has your approach been like throughout your career?
Daniela: Throughout my career, my approach has been one of continuous exploration and growth. Starting as an architect, I was naturally inclined towards design and spatial concepts. But what drove me to further diversify into writing and research was a desire to delve deeper into the theoretical and intellectual aspects of my profession. In this context, serving as the curator and research manager of the online platform Non Architecture has been one of my major passions. It’s a role that allows me to combine my interests in design, theory, and community engagement, offering a unique platform to explore unconventional architectural ideas and perspectives.
I’m inherently curious and love to explore new ideas, concepts, and even disciplines, which led me to venture into writing and eventually, research for my PhD in Digital Fabrication.
Balancing these multiple roles—architect, writer, researcher, and curator—has been both challenging and rewarding. I thrive on doing multiple things; it keeps me motivated and fuels my creative energies. Each role informs the other: my architectural practice benefits from the in-depth research and theoretical perspectives I write about, while my writing is enriched by the hands-on experience and practical knowledge I gain in the architecture office. The curatorial work at Non Architecture, in turn, acts as a sandbox for innovative ideas, enriching my other roles with fresh insights and inspirations.
Commitment and perseverance have been key factors as well. I had my share of failures and setbacks, especially when I started out as a writer. But rather than seeing these as obstacles, I viewed them as opportunities to learn and improve. Each rejection from a magazine or an unsuccessful project bid was a lesson in what I could do better next time. It’s this resilient mindset that has helped me to develop my skills, build a diverse portfolio, and contribute to various publications and architectural projects.
Lastly, I place great emphasis on collaboration and learning from others. Whether it’s working with team members in the architecture office, co-authoring articles, or engaging in academic discourse, I find that different perspectives enrich my own understanding and creativity. It’s like each collaboration is a mini-masterclass in itself, offering insights that I might not have arrived at on my own.
So, my approach has been multifaceted: grounded in curiosity, driven by the desire to grow, resilient in the face of challenges, and collaborative in spirit. This blend has not only helped me evolve as a professional but has also opened doors to exciting opportunities and experiences across the realms of architecture, writing, research, and curation.
RTF: What fuels your creativity? And what are the things you resort to when not working?
Daniela: Deep down, is a combination of intellectual curiosity and a passion for meaningful impact. I find that my roles as an architect, writer, researcher, and curator are interconnected in a way that each amplifies the creative potential of the others. The architectural practice informs my writing, offering a practical lens through which to view theoretical concepts. My writing, in turn, allows me to explore ideas and theories in depth, which then benefits my work in architecture and research. Additionally, being involved in multiple roles and platforms offers me opportunities to explore avant-garde ideas and fosters a sense of community engagement, further fueling my creativity.
When I’m not working, I have a range of go-to activities that serve as both a mental break and a source of inspiration. I enjoy theatre and exhibitions, to gain new perspectives. Travel has always been a huge source of inspiration for me, as experiencing different cultures and environments can be incredibly enlightening and can offer fresh angles on design and storytelling.
Another way I recharge is by engaging in conversations with people who come from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. Whether it’s casual conversations with friends or more structured networking events, I find that interacting with different minds opens up new avenues of thought, challenges my existing viewpoints, and enriches my creative process.
My creativity is fueled by a synergistic blend of my professional roles and personal interests.