Architects who Instagram15/02/19
This week, my five year old daughter asked: “Daddy, do people take photos and put them online?” When I said, yes, she asked, “Why?” and, well, I didn’t know what to say.
I mean, why do people – why do I – take photos and post them online, mostly, these days, on Instagram? For me, Instagram is a kind of scrapbook, a place I post (or paste?) pictures that catch my eye during my regular drifts across London and wherever else I find myself. As for everyone else, who knows? A multitude of reasons no doubt. But you can try and work it out.
Many architects post their own photos on Instagram, day in, day out, and even among the ones that I follow, there’s some very obvious differences in their Insta profiles. Take Norman Foster (@officialnormanfoster), the world’s most famous architect, whose regular stream of posts has earned him 379,000 followers. Less, incidentally, than his likely eventual usurper, the about-half-his-age Danish starchitect Bjarke Ingels (@bjarkeingels) with 555K. Norman’s posts are clearly stage-managed. Not only is he in most of the pics – not selfies, someone else is taking them – they show the super-fit octogenarian working (presenting designs for a local tech hub in a Swiss town hall), resting (sitting on Quansoo Beach on Martha’s Vineyard with an umbrella hat on his head reading Walt Whitman) and playing (30K cross-country ski challenges and polo in the snow during winter).
It’s fascinating stuff. But it’s old school PR. But then so too is Bjarke’s. Alongside the construction snaps of his alluring new designs (the waste-to-energy plant in Copenhagen that doubles as a ski slope!), we get cutesy photos of his recently born child, crashed out with Daddy on a workplace sofa. Both accounts are fun, colourful and occasionally surprising – Norman’s especially – but in essence they sell an old-fashioned dream of a commanding creativity in the Howard Roark mould.
Both contrast sharply with say, Tony Fretton (@t_fretton), who joined Instagram in 2019 but who has already garnered a host of influential followers; from former AJ editor Kieran Long, to Jonathan Sergison of Sergison Bates and Neil Gillespie of thrice Stirling nominated Reiach & Hall. Whether they were prepared for Tony’s pictures – an open packet of M&S jaffa cakes (raspberry flavour), blurred snaps of footpaths and roads, and brick wall close-ups that feel like they might enclose you – is a moot point. I find them compelling. Raw. Vital. And funny. A direct link to a creative mind. And totally in tune with the sensual, mineral quality defining Tony’s architectural designs.
Roz Barr (@roz_barr_architects) – whose restoration of Hammersmith’s St Augustine’s was a highlight of last year’s Open House London – marks her Insta as a ‘personal blog’. So alongside a stream of images cataloguing how Roz designs, makes and installs her work there are scenes of wild nature (mountains, bodies of water, skies) as well as daft snaps – a secret Santa gift of a whisky mocked up as ‘The Famous Roz Barr’ – and buildings and details that catch her eye. It’s warm and friendly and not PR, but if you were looking for an architect and you alighted here, you’d get a good feeling.
Two of London’s best young architects working today, Mary Duggan of Mary Duggan Architects, and Katerina Dionysopoulou, the founder of Bureau de Change Architects, both maintain fascinating Instagram diaries, showcasing their consistently beautiful, crafted objects and buildings. Kat’s recent posts (@katdion) dwell on #35ridinghouse, an apartment block in west London with a Victor Horta inspired shop unit on the ground floor and a remarkable expressionist brick façade that looks like it was zipped into place. But we get to see what Kat, a maker of beautiful things, likes too (Jim Lambie’s coloured tape installation at the RA in 2015, for example) – and that feels like a privilege.
Mary’s approach is interesting in that there is a sense Instagram is being consciously used to outline a creative philosophy – a way of working – and seen in the round you realise how skilfully curated her picture selection is. Perhaps Mary’s Instagram (@marydugganarc) is a design project in itself, with special emphasis placed on massing models of platonic forms that honour cubist motifs and sculptures.
My favourite Instagramming architect however is Dominic Papa (@papa9744), founder of practice S333, whose regular updates offer a kind of masterclass in visual wit and a diary of clever thinking about the city. Whether it’s a flock of Santas riding bikes in central London or an amusing, coincidental juxtaposition – look for the one labelled ‘Construction hoarding Aura! Inside there’s a dancing extrovert waiting to get out!’ – what comes across here is Dominic’s love of how people and architecture make cities so much fun. In some ways it feels like the work of a cartoonist – Dominic also uses captions alongside his snaps to more fully convey his thinking – but as to why he does it, who knows? Why not follow and ask him, and all the others, yourself?