Among digital marketing’s starkest shifts in recent years came the gradual rise of social media. For the everyday user, they have shaped their daily habits and how they consume information. For the professional, regardless of industry, they have offered access to a vast, untapped audience, ready to engage with brands.
This universal paradigm shift aside, each industry now faces its own unique interrelation with social media. In the case of the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry, one seems to be proverbially building the other. That is, they have now found themselves in a symbiotic relationship of visual storytelling. Through it, we may find that social media influences the latest trends in architecture – and, perhaps, vice-versa.
The rise of social media
Social media certainly did not become the juggernaut they are now overnight. The brief global sensation that was Myspace boasted 115 million visitors at its peak in 2008, for example. So did Facebook, its emerging competitor, at the time. These numbers pale in comparison to Facebook’s current daily active users (DAUs) of 1.9 billion, and Facebook’s subsequent impact.
One may explain this, in part, through the ever-expanding reach and penetration of both social media and the internet itself. Indeed, Datareportal cites WeAreSocial/Hootsuite research to identify 4.2 billion social media users today, more than half the global population.
Closely interconnected with this number comes the massive number of unique mobile phone users, at 5.22 billion. In tandem, those may begin to explain how social media influences the latest trends, in architecture and other industries.
#1 Reframing marketing
Initially, social media have slowly but surely reframed marketing holistically. They have fueled inbound marketing like never before, funneling engaged audiences to SEO-friendly websites that drive conversions. In this regard, emotional marketing may now flourish in new ways, as the fragmented customer journey incorporates social media feeds.
#2 Organic engagement
In much the same way, social media now offers an intimate, authentic, and organic connection with your clients and a way to increase engagement through meaningful interactions. As busy, distrustful contemporary audiences increasingly moved away from salesy language, and hard sells, SEO and social media emerged. The former’s effects expanded to AEC portfolios’ content and presentation, as the latter spread awareness to new, willing audiences.
#3 Critical feedback
Finally, social media emerged as a genuine way to receive critical feedback from larger audiences, which all industries may leverage. Still, this held immense value for the AEC industry, which notoriously lagged behind regarding digitization. In the US, for example, the industry only became able to advertise in the 70s, allowing for brand differentiation.
The advent of “Instagrammable” spots
It is critical feedback, direct or indirect, where we may begin to untangle how social media influences the latest trends in architecture. Specifically, the trend of “Instagrammable” spots has infused architecture with a consciousness of “post-occupancy” use, as Instagram popularity soared.
This trend sees architecture move beyond the immediately functional and into the visual. As the public space becomes usable past its original intent, as a spectacle to be used in different ways, so too does architecture adapt. That is, where function served as architecture’s persistent testament of quality, form now takes its own substance. This trend, innovative as it is transformative, finds fertile ground on social media’s expanding dominance. Domus’s Salvatore Peluso identifies this trend and describes it eloquently as follows:
“We live in a historical moment in which the production of images in any field is wide-spread and horizontal, where the main newspapers and magazines must adapt to more rapid and direct forms of communication, such as that of influencers, rethinking the information in its entirety, from the writing of articles to their distribution.”
What he describes we may summarize as the advent of “Instagrammable” spots. It is the “sense of permanent voyeurism” that Ippolito Pestellini, partner of OMA/AMO, identifies in the same article. Put differently, the awareness that every structure may see new uses, speak to non-occupants differently, and tell visual stories that fuel marketing and drive social media engagement.
The AEC industry on Instagram
Of course, as social media influences the latest trends in architecture in this way, the AEC industry rightfully embraced them in return. ArchitectureCompetitions explores the #architecture hashtag within the realms of Instagram, for example, and identifies ample profiles worth following on the platform. Thought leaders, studios, innovators, and more reside within their list.
It is this evolving relationship that now makes AEC influencer marketing appealing and lucrative, for that matter. Despite its relative niche nature, in everyday life terms, AEC has found an excellent, near-failproof way to leverage social media. It simply constructs what social media users crave, quite literally.
Shifting tides; “TikTok-itecture” and “building images”
And yet, perhaps predictably, as Myspace found competition in Facebook, Instagram soon found competition in TikTok. This also had such a profound impact on AEC marketing and branding that ArchDaily dubbed the phenomenon “TikTok-itecture”.
Of course, one cannot in any way claim this race will end on a similar note as the Myspace/Facebook one. The two are hardly comparable, beyond illustrating how an innovator may always eventually dethrone an established mainstay. Moreover, AEC does not care much for the result, as it continues to embrace and ride the coattails of both.
Regardless, TikTok, too, took the digital world by storm. It surged to 850 million DAUs effectively overnight and cracked open a vast new audience Instagram had nurtured. It effectively enlarged the effects Instagram already had on the AEC industry, as OMA/AMO had already identified them in 2018:
In this insightful analysis, UnStudio’s Dana Behrman delves into “post-occupancy analysis”, observing social media users’ use of public spaces. She observes “how do they actually appropriate the spaces, that are often different from what [architects] imagine [them] to be”.
OMA/AMO’s Giulio Margheri makes a similar distinction, noting that social media photos differ substantially from carefully curated, professional photos “[one] would see in an architectural magazine”. This consciousness, too, only builds on what Instagram had started, with Australia’s Property Council now equating the two platforms’ potency.
Visual identity versus purpose
Still, whether the two stand on equal grounds or not, both embody how social media influences the latest trends in architecture. Both pose the substantial question of visual identity versus purpose and juxtapose the momentary with the permanent. Instagram nurtured the public space consciousness, and TikTok now informs interior design trends.
Strelkamag frames the question in sharp terms; “good content versus good architecture”. As they do, they highlight the shift “from public space to photo opportunity”. Yet, others hold different answers; architecture does indeed build images, in part, but it can only do so within reason. Michael Gardner, Studio G Architecture founder, does exhibit this newfound consciousness himself, commenting on such spaces:
“These spots naturally become advertising for the business because the patrons are taking photos in front of them and posting them on social media. With how popular these spaces have become, I think we’ll start seeing more businesses trying to add something new to their Instagram walls and incorporate technology so that it becomes more of an experience than just a photo op space.”
This prediction, echoing those of other OMA/AMO architects, seems to bridge the gap between the visual and the permanent. It recognizes, in subtle ways, that AEC marketing follows suit. It welcomes the means of escaping “becoming too one-off architects” that Ben Van Berkel noted. Finally, one would argue, it embraces the inevitability of social media dominance and seeks to strengthen AEC’s relationship to it.
In closing, it would initially seem that social media influences the latest trends in architecture due to sheer size alone. However, audience size entails cultural shifts; digital denizens reject traditional marketing and embrace a philosophically fresh perspective on the digital and physical. Architects have observed this gradual shift for years, as it informed interior design and the public space alike. Today, one can argue that the AEC industry experiences its own digital boom, as far as the public consciousness goes. Whether philosophically sound or practically sustainable, this relationship will likely remain robust for years to come.