Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest. As the critic Andrea Lange noted in her article in De Zeen (“It’s easy to make fun of Bjarke Ingels on Instagram,” January 7, 2014), architects too often use the platform of social media to promote themselves, their work, and the image of how they would like to be seen. It does not have to be this way, and Dr. Lange continues in her article to explain her thoughts this topic. As a tool for investigation, recording of inspiration and vision, applications such as Instagram have great potential. Instagram users create unending galleries of images that flow like trains of thought or even as dreamlike continua. Unlike Pinterest, this platform is at its best when the user creates the images, usually with a smartphone, edits, and uploads the original artwork. There are three main ways of using the gallery platform; the first is to focus on creating images, the second is to look through other galleries for inspiration, and the third is to connect similar kinds of images from across the globe or to connect to those in your community.
Creating. Our built environment is a constant source of inspiration. We live and work surrounded by architecture, urban design, and landscape. The square format of our smartphones encourages us to focus in, find the details, the irregularities, and symmetries. We look up, capturing the edges of skyscrapers as they seemingly bend in towards each other. As an architect, the opportunity to capture daily these moments is very powerful. Sketching is wonderful, making us pause and study what we see. However, using the quickly taken image and then studying it through the editing software also forces us to take stock of what is important about that moment and distill the essential image, if we choose to take the time. As well, one can look at how the images hold together as one scrolls through the gallery. Tonality, shape, and compositional balance become as important as the detail bits that are captured daily. Mimicking how we look at designing a building, seeing the detail in the context of the whole is part of the exercise.
Sharing. One of the greatest aspects of this global collection is that some of the best images are not created by designers and professional photographers, but by people who simply love the spaces in which they live and travel. As designers, we have a unique opportunity to see the built environment through their eyes via their Instagram images. These are the people we are designing for, and to see what they see, and so globally, is new and exciting. Platforms such as Instagram are highly public; most people choose to allow the world to view their work. It is also wonderfully anonymous; all we know of the photographer is the image they created and what they choose to say on their intro line. By using hashtags we can sift and create our own galleries of ideas and study how others see objects and places: skyscrapers, bridges, the urban street.
Forming community. Hashtag searches, often seen as the way to generate Twitter buzz for gossip, is also an ideal way to search out like-minded photographers and architects.As the blogger Michael Riscica notes in his blog, Young Architect, by using a specific hashtag (in his case #portlandarchitecture) he became connected to local architects, photographers, etc. In a sense, this gets away potentially from the anonymity of Instagram, but also opens up the possibility of very real communication that is purely visual. It’s possible to hold discussions on individual images, linking and connecting images intentionally through comments.
Rather than using the visual platform for showcasing one’s own work, the very real opportunity is there to show and learn about yourself as a designer and to discover and look at how others see the world. In the continuous flow of information, it’s an exciting place to be.
Stephanie Goldberg is a principal with LAB/ Life. Science. Architecture, Inc. in Charlestown and maintains an Instagram feed: segold.