Feb 16, 2014

Architects Don't Want You To Know This 1 Weird Trick

Every profession has its own little community. I imagine the village of architecture- it's actually made up of about 100,000 registered architects and maybe four times that in unlicensed. So we're looking at a (very attractive and thoughtful) city of about a half million. About the population of Tucson of people who want to be called "architect."

When you look at the number of architects (licensed or not) who actively participate in what is considered modern architecture, or architecture theory and criticism, the numbers would seem to fall precipitously. The vast majority of architects are not involved in this kind of work. They design custom homes in Tuscan styles, tenant improvements in strip malls, rectangular glass office buildings, police stations, car dealerships, Subway sandwiches, and little league fields.

Thus, the noise which fills the architecture media is produced by a very small group of individuals.

I follow an excellent blog called Bldgblog.com which is written by a guy named Geoff Manaugh, and his blog and reporting is generally well respected. He's been associated with a lot of architecture and design magazines (Dwell, Wired UK, and Gizmodo) and for the latter he recently wrote a flaming, obscenity laden, incendiary rant against the latest Gehry building: Frank Gehry Is Still The World's Worst Living Architect

The resulting interest, outcry, and response throws a lot of things into light: How the architecture community views Frank Gehry, Post-Iconic architecture, the state of architectural criticism, architecture media, and what people want to read regarding all of the above.

One downside of the 'free' internet is that to make money websites need people to see them and the advertisements displayed on them. The nature of the internet and of design websites in particular is that you can get your news and information elsewhere so paywalls tend to strangle rather than fortify. When getting people to see your website becomes critical to your very existence, and the only way to attract viewers is via text, websites push incendiary, controversial, outrageous headlines and content.

Which link is going to generate more traffic?: Slovenia: New Conceptions of Public Space or The World's Top Seven Ugliest Buildings

Take your time.

While there is still a lot of good writing and reporting on architecture, the vast majority of what I see on most architecture and design websites is about 30 websites competing to show you the most attention getting, graphic-based, news item or new product first.  Actually, and this is interesting, I find that people on Facebook tend to be faster than any of my twitter feeds from these magazines. It's fascinating to me because it raises the question of where they saw it.

But going back to the Gehry-bashing article- a lot of people jumped on and commented with the equivalent of an "LOL." And then a lot of people rose up to not necessarily defend Gehry or his work, but to criticize what they say as blatant pandering link-bait.

Archinect.com (full disclosure, I posted a blog on their website for awhile), tries to maintain somewhat of a respectable facade by not trying to join the posting race and encouraging a discursive community. One of their authors, probably one of the editors, posted a link to the Gizmodo article with the commentary that it was "[link baiting]=1, Journalism=0"

This opened up the messaging forum on Architect.com to get into it with long, long replies mostly upraiding Geoff. Then Geoff steps in and replies to two of the posters, who both sound academic, and who had long and thoughtful criticisms of the peice.

Geoff's defense is that it wasn't intended to be insightful criticism, it was just something he wrote in 20 minutes in a slow moment of the afternoon. In fact, he criticizes his attackers cries of "link bait!" by accusing them of only reading this one piece (taking the bait, as it were), as opposed to reading the other thoughtful, insightful articles he has authored or edited on less sensational topics.
It's actually depressing to think that one of the most tossed-off things I've ever written about architecture is now one of the third or fourth most widely read things I've published.
I'm not convinced. It's a bit like Coca-Cola blaming consumers for drinking Coke when they knew it was sugary fluff instead of Dasani water. Even if its just "tossed off" you can't act surprised when you something lowest-common-denominator get a lot of attention.

At least the state of architecture journalism hasn't reached Yahoo! lows



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