Sep '06 - Dec '09
For the second year in a row I just got back from NOMA's national convention in DC. One of the most interesting presentations and conversations that I had in this surprisingly conservative conference was about the role of web environments in architectural practice.
This conversation called my attention because at its heart it is about the way we view the role of architecture and the architect in society. It is also a conversation I have had in other settings and seems to be something in a lot of designer's minds.
When I arrived to the presentation a lot of the older architects present were saying how digital communication feels cold to them. As I saw it, these practitioners were feeling the rug being pulled from under them. They are used to talking closely to people, digital communications do not give them the same type of warmth.
Then the presenter said something that I thought went to the heart of the argument; he told them that their website should be 'hot and seductive' like a car manufacturer's site.
Then it occurred to me, that is EXACTLY what architects are doing right now. Currently most firm's sites are cold, displaying architecture as a product trying to seduce their real audience, other architects. Even the few firms that try to bring the process of their work into the sites do it in a way that turns the process into little more than a commodity.
But what about the ambivalence expressed by this audience? Their argument seemed to me to be about a more traditional role of the architect with strong relationships in his or her local community. Still, their traditional flash architecture-as-consumable websites acknowledge that architects cannot think about only their local community anymore, we are a global marketplace.
However, if architects (as professionals) are not trying to sell a commodity (an object or style), but rather a more loosely-defined PROFESSIONAL service then I think that the current flash-seductive site simply does not work.
I would argue that a possible new model can be seen in Obama's website. What makes Obama's site successful is that the campaign opens up some of its process, while allowing you to feel part of a larger community. This site, as those for most politicians, does not try to sell any specific proposal,but rather an overall way of thinking and decision making. All this through video, blogs, and many other media to get into the campaign and their way of thinking.
Now, I realize that this site works at a scale that is not attainable to most small firms, but some of these principles still apply. Most clients, I think, realize that firms do not have catalogs of designs to choose from, rather they want to be reassured about that firm's process and way of working.
What I find interesting about the discussion is that it reflects some of the internal tensions within the field as more architects become celebrities with a specific 'style' to sell. I guess the question is if our websites reflect that struggle and how we position the profession moving forward.
BONUS: some pics from DC: http://www.flickr.com/photos/quilian/sets/72157607735430420/