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Architectural Designs, Memes, and Social Media Influencers

According to a Harris Poll/Lego survey that questioned children across the United States, UK, and China, nearly one-third of children aged eight to 12 want to be a “YouTuber” when they grow up. That’s three times as many children who said that they wanted to be astronauts just a decade ago.

The implications of how this generation of future influencers and content creators has a significant impact on the architecture and design profession begs the question- are we on the cusp of experiencing the rise of architecture influencers?

Influencers are people with large social media platforms- especially on Instagram and YouTube. As society spends more time on these easily consumable apps, companies are beginning to take advantage of paid influencers who will promote their products and services. While more than 95% of influencers don’t make enough money to even be considered above the US poverty level, some major celebrities can make up to a million dollars per Instagram post. In the year 2020 alone, almost ten billion dollars were spent on Instagram influencer advertising. Today, we look towards Twitter accounts, TikTokers, blogs, major websites, and especially meme creators as our source of influencers.

We’ve yet to see this trend take significant form for different design firms, but there has been an emergence of younger professionals who have posted videos about what the day in the life of an architecture student, or a junior designer is like. What we’re seeing less of is the “curatorial” type of influencer, who posts galleries of photos with design aesthetics, sharing their mood boards and project inspirations.

architecture, astronauts, design,
AIHS 2022

Since architecture is such a broadly defined profession, it’s likely that its version of influencers will continue to proliferate through memes since they’ve already gained tens of thousands of followers across multiple accounts. If there’s one thing that’s perhaps extremely unique to the experience of architects, it’s that no matter where you studied, and regardless of what firm you work at- much of your experience is largely the same. Think about the last time you talked to one of your colleagues about your time studying architecture. You probably both reminisced over the all-nighters in the studio, the 2 am pizza deliveries, falling asleep for days right after your final review, and fighting for a time slot at the laser cutter machine, even if you went to different schools. The extreme similarities that architects experience are part of what might allow architecture to have a few figureheads that explain the day-to-day lives of students and practitioners.

Recently, OMA posted a job listing that was quickly spotted, and criticized, by a sleuth of well-known architecture meme accounts on Instagram. Their issue was that the posting clearly stated “no 9-5 mentality”, which suggested that the hours would be long and non-standard, something that has recently been criticized, especially in the wake of attempted unionizations by firm employees. Although thousands of people would jump at the opportunity to work at OMA, the attention that the meme accounts drew to the job listing caused the qualification to be pulled, and a quick glance at their job postings now show that “no 9-5 mentality” is not listed as a qualification. Other meme accounts have rallied in support of fair working conditions, identified major cultural issues in the profession, and become the catalyst for young architecture voices.

In another example, MVRDV’s highly criticized Marble Arch Mound project in London had several Instagram meme accounts posting fun at its completed design. Their website, which published a rebuttal called “Learning from Marble Arch Mound: A Premature Opening and an Execution Lacking in Love (Our Side of the Story)” was swiftly met with more criticism and conjecture by these meme accounts and commenters who shared their scathing opinions as well.

While they might not be selling us a skincare product or a vitamin as a typical influencer would, these accounts with large followings are doing a different kind of work, influencing us to unite on important causes that we might have felt alone about without these mainstream memes.

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