26. Architecture Communities

As an architect, it is important to promote your architecture portfolio and get as much publicity as possible. Publicity and high visibility inevitably leads to more project leads, because the more exposure you have, the more clients are aware of your existence. This is very logical. Unfortunately, architects are sometimes illogical.

Image from http://www.arthistoryspot.com

 

Let’s play pretend for a moment. Let’s say that you’re a fine artist, and you create oil paintings for a living. In order to shake the stereotype of a starving artist and finally move out of your parent’s basement, you must sell your masterpieces (what else would they be?) to the general public for a hefty sum. So, you set out to build your portfolio, carefully photographing your work and coming up with eloquently verbose descriptions that subtly tie in Winckelmann‘s theory so that those art history majors will finally have something to talk about at the next cocktail party. You finally complete the portfolio and are ready to debut it to the public, so you decide to upload it to an online community for prime exposure in record time.

By this point in our make-believe artist’s story, you’re probably nodding along gleefully, daydreaming about the first commission you’ll get for your beautiful Monet reproduction…er…interpretation. But wait a minute…what’s this? Instead of uploading your images and distributing them to friends and family, or utilizing a direct mailing list that would actually put your art in front of those with buying power, you choose to upload your portfolio to: an online artist community.

This, my friends, is what we call a marketing fail.

If you create art, do you market it to other starving artists who can barely afford to buy their own supplies? Nope, they’ll just end up adding an extra daub of paint and calling it their own work. If you repair appliances, do you try to offer your services to another appliance repair company? Of course not; they can do it themselves!

Image from http://architangent.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Architizer_Party_2.jpg

Somehow this logic is lost on architects. Architects believe that if they upload their portfolio to an online architecture community, that someone with lots of money will ‘discover them’ and become enamored to the point of throwing money at the screen until it trickles through the interwebs directly into their pocket. This is the clever lie that all architecture communities seem to promote:

The internet is a magical place, full of rich people with money who want to give it to you. Somehow, they’ll stumble upon a nerdy, obscure, architects-only website and suddenly decide that this is the meaning of life. As such, they’ll change their wills and donate all the money to the ‘great cause of architecture’. (Which so happens to include your project idea from sophomore year of college even though your professor said it would never be built.) With this newfound pot of gold, you can finally build the design and become the famous starchitect you were always meant to be.

Architects are blissfully ignorant, and will continue to populate the online architecture communities in hopes that one day, their ideal client will meander through and hire them for the project of a lifetime. Until then, they’ll eagerly comment on their own projects, boosting their exposure among other unemployed architects.

I guess if your project really is that good, then ignorance is bliss.

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  • I tend to agree with your premise except for one tiny thing. If you were looking to hire an architect to design a house for you and you were searching for inspiration, leads, contact information – whatever, why not go to the same watering hole where all the architects gather?

    These days it’s easy enough to cover your bases and do both because you just never know who or where someone is going to find you. 

    • Of course its great to cover your bases (I even have a few online profiles myself). I think where we can lose focus is when we include every project we include every project we’ve ever created. Online portfolios need to be given just as much care as the ones we carry to job interviews or client meetings. (Which reminds me to do some clean-up on my profiles!)

    • The other thing I forgot to mention in my reply was that when you do a search for ‘architect’ or ‘architecture’, these online communities don’t show up on the first page of results (or the first several…I stopped looking after page 3). I think there needs to be multiple ways that we make our presence known to the public; perhaps starting outside of our field is the best way.

      • You do realize that my comment here could be perceived as the pot calling the kettle black since I have my own blog site and I rarely post anything to those online architectural portfolio sites. An interesting angle to take here is the amount of up-keep and labor associated with maintaining several online portfolio’s. I can barely keep up with what I’m doing and responding to the emails and comments – the idea of keeping track of more than 2 sites makes me exhausted. When do I get to practice architecture?

        • Maybe the bigger picture is that we should have an online portfolio, but just one; make it focused, clear, and then promote it well in a variety of outlets and professional fields. I think we can over-extend ourselves just with the number of options available out there. A personal website/blog is a great option in lieu of multiple memberships to architecture communities; you can always post content from those sites on your personal site.

      • You do realize that my comment here could be perceived as the pot calling the kettle black since I have my own blog site and I rarely post anything to those online architectural portfolio sites. An interesting angle to take here is the amount of up-keep and labor associated with maintaining several online portfolio’s. I can barely keep up with what I’m doing and responding to the emails and comments – the idea of keeping track of more than 2 sites makes me exhausted. When do I get to practice architecture?

  • Dear Polia

    You are awesome! And I agree with you on all accounts from personal experience, hate to disagree with Mr. Borson. Most people hire architects via word of mouth and recommendations, a website is just a way to check credentials and portfolio after initial meeting/referral. The best way to market oneself is in the social network, and I don’t mean Facebook, but a cocktail party. Some people will do an online search but you have to scroll or click next to find Arkie only sites, so they’ll get distracted by the sponsored webpages.

    • I think you’re onto something; our online portfolios are a screening tool, and not always the first one. There needs to be a balance of ‘hitting the pavement’ and promoting ourselves online. Constant evaluation of our strategies is necessary to make sure that our goal is met: reaching our intended audience. If socializing at parties is connecting you the best way, then focus your efforts there. If visitors flock to your website, then focus on that. I think the main point is that whatever we focus on needs to show results; if your method isn’t improving your visibility, its time to try something else!

  • architectrunnerguy

    I agree with Polia, most commissions are referrals.

    Although in keeping with the first two sentences of this particuliar tangent (and I like that term!) I have found another way to promote my work.

    I simply build a house and live in it. Now, while on the surface, this may seem difficult, it’s really not. I’ve (or rather we, my wife and I) have done it three times. And the amazing thing is, we’re still married!!

    It’s really not all that hard to find a lot, and after all if we are truely creative, to find a cheap “difficult” lot (the more difficult, the better for us actually).

    This does a bunch of things, all good.

    It keeps you in touch with construction.
    It keeps you in touch with budgets ….and it’s a whole lot different when you’re spending your own money. My client s always laugh when I tell them that line.
    It provides creativity without the “client” getting in the way (ok, unless it’s your wife).
    And finally and most importantly, it provides a full scale “portfolio” model of your work.

    I work out of my house now (but that’s not needed for this to work) and a prospective client can walk through it and see design ideas expressed. I know we can always send a client down to Joe Blows house 15 miles away but there’s an attraction to walking through the architects own house that the architect built (I always act as my own GC). It’s kinda like talking to someone about swimming  and saying you’ve actually gotten in the pool yourself. That’s respected. so many architects never get in the water, not even the kiddie pool.

    We are actually getting ready to build our fourth house in the next year….Brinn, I may need an architect…wink!! Seriously, building one’s own house isn’t financially prohibitive for most architects. But it is hard work. I know.

    Doug

    • Doug, I’m impressed that you’ve built that many homes! I’m a bit envious 😉 I’m curious as to your budgets; would you mind sharing a little about your price ranges for lots and construction costs? (And the size of the home?) My goal is to build my own house at some point, but my husband’s and my tastes are a bit expensive. We would definitely be up for starting with a small or less desirable lot, and even doing a very small home; Its just a bit harder to do inside the city 🙂

      I do think doing is the next step in designing, and like you said, one that some designers never get to. Whether it is selling your artwork, building your house design, getting a book published, or other creative endeavor, taking that final step to have an actual tangible product is crucial to understanding your craft. I hope we can all take that step in our careers.

      Let me know if you need any design ideas or advice on your next home!

  • I definitely like browsing other people’s projects as well. I think that is one of the benefits of using architecture communities. There are also many architecture focused publications online that give a good overview of interesting projects. (And of course, Tumblr for all the eye candy!)