Social Media and the Built Environment

Artwork and architecture share many similarities and differences, and we can perceive a grey area between the definitions of the two. On one hand, a clear overlap exists between the inherent emphasis on cultural significance and some of the processes used during design. On the other, each pursuit has defining and unique characteristics. Maybe the most defining characteristic of  architecture is that it has the distinct ability to encourage the exploration of a built environment in a variety of ways.  Architecture allows an individual to get lost in a three-dimensional environment and define  it for themselves. Typically, no one is telling building users where and how to inhabit a space; that is left for visitors to determine  for themselves and should be a fundamental driver in the creation of architecture. Artwork is typically perceived in a more static way, often allowing an individual to see the piece in its entirety from one location.

With the advent of social media, experiencing different spaces within architecture has taken on a whole new meaning. Social media has allowed individuals to capture these “discoveries” and encourage others to do the same. Our profession is extremely visually focused, so allowing something like architecture to be so accessible online strengthens the possibility for visual inspiration. It also allows for more communication between different types of architecture and firms. Beyond the potential for inspiration, designers should be deliberate about paying homage   to social media throughout the design process; this potential for engagement can influence the feeling of a space, or guide how someone might move through and want to capture their experience. After design and construction comes the crowd-sourced review of our creation. Where are people spending their time and how are individuals interacting with these environments?

Image-based social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter embrace the “elevator pitch” type approach to engaging their users. Sorting through and reviewing dozens of photos and graphics on these platforms in a matter of minutes is nearly effortless from the comfort of our smartphones. Both the greatest strength and downfall of architecture’s social media presence lies in this rapid consumption of media and evaluation. When presented an image, users are quickly able to reflect on a built environment and gauge their interest based on an image alone. In that moment, the individual is not just viewing a professionally shot photograph of a building, but a portal to a specific moment in time where the photographer felt compelled to capture an image of their journey through the space. It’s not the entire building, but a snapshot of a moment or discovery.

Recently, a small project in LS3P’s Savannah office posed the question “how can social media become a driving force in our design process?” In the very first project meetings for a small “experiential museum” adjacent to a downtown shopping street, the client laid out their interest in designing a space that visitors will want to share. They emphasized wanting to capture people “living their best lives” in the space and sharing that experience with family and friends.  Throughout our design process, as often as we discussed circulation and program goals, we hypothesized about what spaces might lend themselves as great opportunities for a selfie with friends, or even a RFID tag that discreetly captures photos of visitors when they request it. The team in Savannah has gone further than describing these moments with words and drawings, and used virtual reality to walk the client and his team through these spaces, giving a real time perception of scale and magnitude within a virtual environment. The team sees these conversations continuing throughout the design process as the project develops to continue conversations of materializing spaces that people want to share.

When our drawings become buildings and users begin to populate them, designers should consider the question, “how fast will the buzz die down?” We will always personally be invested in our projects because of the tireless efforts to erect them. However, how long will its inhabitants feel the same? As we have discussed, this world is so fast and interactive that the still structure can become a blur. How can we make sure our clients continue to engage and champion our “artwork”? Let’s look at social media as our friend and companion in this effort to immortalize our hard work. Does it take constantly changing murals, digital boards, touch points, etc. to keep people taking photos in our spaces and of them? What can we do in the design stages to make these points clear and available? We must start thinking of social media platforms as a part of our strategy, and as a way to stand out in every sector – not just a student dorm. We have free advertisement at our disposal. Through the users’ eyes, we can develop a new level of architecture, and a new era of closing the gap between architecture and art.

About Aria

Aria Real joined the Raleigh office as an Interior Designer in 2020. Aria comes to LS3P with experience in interior design for corporate commercial interiors including student housing, market housing, and senior living projects. Aria enjoys creating unique moods and interior environments while remembering her obligation to infuse the elements of health, safety, and welfare into every space. Her ultimate goal is to design affordable homes with high capacity for growth, preservation, and the makings of a better society. Her hope is to build self-sustaining communities.

Aria holds a Bachelor’s in Interior Design from High Point University and continues to pursue education in professionalism, sustainability, and diversity.

About Nate

Nate Sepic, Assoc. AIA, is an emerging professional in LS3P’s Savannah office. A recent graduate of NC State University with a Bachelor of Architecture, Nate brings previous professional experience in designs for K-12, mixed-use high-rise, civic, and multifamily housing projects in the Raleigh/Durham area. Adept in using technology for representation, Nate is an advocate of using virtual reality as a medium to communicate design ideas including scale, circulation, and experience of a space.

Outside of the office, Nate is actively involved in Bike and Build, a nonprofit organization that orchestrates cross-country bike trips in partnership with local affordable housing organizations. He also serves as a mentor in the ACE Mentor Program and is passionate about enlightening high school students to pursue careers in architecture, engineering, and construction.