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Emerging Digital Worlds
Architecture in the age of social media
Scales of Sharing
A New Industrial Revolution
- Views on Architecture
The field of architecture has been through many major shifts. More recently, stylistic movements such as Postmodernism, Modernism or Art Nouveau have been the resulting evolutionary outcomes of shifts in social, economic, cultural and technological discourse. Therefore, it’s of no surprise that when the world evolves, so too does our field. If we look further back, the Renaissance, which gave light to perspectival drawing as a tool to envision our world and question reality, could be said to have been born through a technological discovery albeit analog. It seems apparent that architecture goes through waves of change and trends that flux between the emphasis of art and technology—our two primary modes of production. Each architectural era throughout history seems to be desperately fighting the previous, seeking and giving birth to the next. So, what becomes of our future in a world where artificial intelligence is ripping through our traditional modes of production? Where will the evolution of drawing media and interfaces take us?
In recent times, economic depressions paired with rapid technological innovations have given way to major changes. In the 70s, the Great Inflation caused architects to take their creative zeal to theoretical and artistic heights due to the lack of building opportunities. Today, in the UK, inflation is at a record high, architectural education reform is well underway and following the Grenfell tragedy, major changes to legislative frameworks have meant architects’ freedoms have become further constricted. Architecture, again, is in a moment of great change.
In addition to the socioeconomic factors, the technological zeitgeist of today could be one of many: the internet of things, virtual/augmented reality, artificial intelligence, blockchain transaction, or all the above! However, social media may be the most significant innovation of all, not least because nearly the entire world uses it every single day, but also since the smartphone has become a new human organ or limb. For architectural discourse, it has recently become an established cultural norm for businesses and individuals to share, proliferate and market our work online on “all platforms.” Moreover, the social media algorithms, although superficial, do not discriminate. Any person, from any background and financial situation, whether the most well-connected or the least, can rise to world recognition through “cracking the algorithm.” Despite the digital interface of it all, this has very real-world implications. Architecture entered the digital interface with the advent of computer aided design (CAD) software, however, the wholesale migration into the digital world is as recent as the establishment of Instagram. World-renowned practices and “starchitects” such as David Adjaye, Norman Foster, Bjarke Ingels, and even the late Zaha Hadid all too exist in this pocket-pixel world for as long as the data centers allow. However, less established “influencers” and thought leaders share the stage, sometimes, with far larger audiences and reach—proving that this truly is a unique time in our discourse.
With such a rich diversity of knowledge and experience available online it is no coincidence that millions of practitioners and students across the world are flocking to social media and being inspired by architectural illustrators, influencers and practitioners pushing the boundaries. These are individuals, collectives and practices who are breaking the mould, unbound by the chains of gatekeeping forces—free to express their truths and build their brands. You may have known or learned by now that one such niche that truly dominates in this revolution is “architectural drawings on social media,” and on Instagram more specifically. Why, might you ask? The ability to translate ideas, thoughts and dreams into artistic expressions so that they may forever exist in a tangible—albeit digital—form of reality is the survival skill we need in a cutthroat industry. It’s what makes us unique and increases the value of our offering. This emerging digital world of architecture on social media will, and perhaps already has, become our new normal.
Despite the dystopic predictions of the erasure of human intelligence in place of artificial intelligence, or worse yet, artificial general intelligence, it would seem to me that humans won’t go without a fight. The truth of the matter is that our digital existence and artificial intelligence will always be hybrid—so long as we continue to eat, drink and breathe. My passion is to understand the unstoppable evolutionary trajectory of our profession and how digital and technological innovations can facilitate us in our human interactions as opposed to dictate them. This is the greatest challenge and opportunity facing us as we take bigger strides into the emerging digital worlds.
Main image: Sacred Syntheses 1, AI hybrid drawing. Image © Hamza Shaikh
Drawing Attention: Architecture in the Age of Social Media, Hamza Sheik, RIBA Publishing, 2023: