An interesting article was written by Max Ottignon, Ragged Edge, back in September 2020. It discussed the idea that the industry of branding failed in its main role to communicate it’s own meaning. This is certainly true to an extent. It is also true for many professions that fall under the term “creative”. One that suffers, probably a little more than most, is architecture.
With a background in architecture I have certainly fallen into the category of speaking the language of architecture. It is something that is taught through our training and in working practice. It beds itself into the subconscious to the extent that it becomes everyday language. So much so that we assume everyone around us (family, friends, clients and people we meet) know the language already and are confused when people don’t understand. When I’m discussing the idea of language I should say this isn’t always a spoken language, but visual as well. As an entity, architecture needs this complex language so that people involved can communicate to a level of detail that is required to form the structures and move the industry forward for its continual advancement. However, its use can be counter productive particularly when discussions of branding and marketing come into play.
One statement I hear when discussing the perception of architecture is that “the architecture sells itself”. Whether this was the case a hundred or so years ago is questionable (I suspect not when looking at the social circles architects surrounded themselves with), but in a modern setting this kind of thinking assumes clients know and appreciate the architectural language. The average person will likely be able to tell when a space or piece of design doesn’t work, but being able to judge great design on how the intricate pieces form a story through a building may be a little lost.
How architects communicate to society is tied into explaining their value as part of the construction process. The stereotypes of architects over complicating a simple extension, or being too expensive to include in the construction process, or too arty to design functional buildings is still engrained into society. It’s a shame that this is the case, especially when designing low impact buildings is necessary to help with our effect on the climate. The value of architects can be as simple as “they create healthy habitats for humans”. This simplification of the process allows people to understand that they won’t get just four walls and a roof, but something that will enhance their lives.
Miscommunication leads the industry to undervalue itself. There’s been a few articles recently and over the years in the AJ regarding undervaluing, underpaying and a toxic race to the bottom price culture in architecture. Similar to Max Ottignon’s conclusion on branding, architecture as an industry needs to come together and change its perception to the world. Communicating clearly and positively about the value that architects bring will help people understand the importance of architects, reducing underpay and free work.