WAF Newsletter - Communicating in isolation - April 2020

Communicating in isolation

Laura Iloniemi, 20 April 2020

In response to the current pandemic, architects are now using their skills to do what they can to help resolve it, writes Laura Iloniemi.

Carlo Ratti, for example, has published his intensive care units for coronavirus treatment. Some may see this as an opportunistic way to capitalise on the media’s hunger for COVID-19 related stories, yet it is only natural for architects to expend their creative energies in trying to make sense of a crisis that has wide societal implications.

CURA in Turin Italy © Max Tomasinelli

Those looking to do PR as usual may well find that their communication initiatives will need to be repositioned to address the current mood, with so many lives and livelihoods at stake. Now is certainly not the best time to be launching initiatives that could come across as frivolous.

Saying that, it is hard to anticipate what the mood will be in the months ahead. The cultural and economic repercussions of COVID-19, however, are likely to necessitate careful reflection on how each practice thinks about its professional role and ethos. In coming weeks and after the initial disbelief and shock of recent events, more of us, perhaps, will have sufficient headspace to forge ahead with PR strategies. There are also a great many useful low-key and even soothing communication efforts architects might embrace in these odd times.

For example, The Architects’ Journal provides an excellent topical ‘Sketchbook slot’ for recording ‘social distancing’ work at home. As Alan Dunlop, the first contributor to the series, notes: ‘Architects should draw; it’s our primary means of communicating.’ So sketching or fine-tuning presentation drawings is definitely time well spent, as is thinking of how a practice’s drawings can project a consistent and considered image for the future.

© Alan Dunlop, Lockdown Sketchbook 27th March to 20th April

Sketching and hand-drawing also provide a wonderfully tactile and human quality to digital presentations on websites and through social media – or the many on-line festivals and exhibitions that are fast emerging. And as we’re not taking people to see buildings in situ, or arranging previews in memorable places, this is an ideal time to focus on how we might improve the communication of the art of architecture and its haptic qualities on-line.

© Alan Dunlop, Lockdown Sketchbook 27th March to 20th April

© Alan Dunlop, Lockdown Sketchbook 27th March to 22nd April

Those into social media should get to know their followers better. They might even be surprised to be far better connected than they first thought. Overall, revisiting one’s address book is potentially time better spent than trying to come up with virtual marketing gimmicks.

It is also good to remember that well before COVID-19, there was already a real issue with on-line overload. On Twitter Ian T writes: ‘This week I have mostly been swearing at emails from arts organisations forwarding free content that I don’t have time to watch.’ This made me laugh, and I noticed that this sentiment chimed with ‘likes’ from prominent and hardened architectural journalists.

In assisting clients during this period, I have found one task especially soothing, so much so that I see it as a bit of therapy against a backdrop of a global newsfeed that is deeply unsettling.

Every morning at 9am, I get onto a VC call with a client and we spend an hour together devoting the time solely to editing text intended for the studio’s website. There’s something hugely satisfying in allowing oneself to focus on the meaning of a single word that matters when so much of what we take for granted out there is no longer business as usual.

Getting coverage beyond COVID-19 stories carries on, and throughout this period of internationally staggered lockdowns, I have found that publications in China and then Italy – and now, of course, more widely – have been astonishingly resilient and creative in working around the situation. Editors are trying their best to feature buildings in the absence of new photography and press briefings on site. Some are being very empathic, offering studios support by trying to find ways to give them exposure.

Equally, architects able to support freelance writers by commissioning copy-writing and research should do so, not only to enhance their own skill-base, but to keep the very community going whose work they have thus far relied on to gain exposure.

It’s a tricky situation, but those who succeed take a long-term view and respond to the competitive challenges of the future in a proactive way. Devising plans is, of course, made very challenging when no one knows quite how the situation might change from week to week and whether further events will be postponed. This is why, for the time-being, consolidation and fine-tuning of PR efforts are ideal ways to improve practice communications, while keeping an eye on the bigger picture as it begins to unravel – or stabilise.

Laura Iloniemi is an architectural publicist working internationally, guest editor of Nov/Dec 2019 AD on ‘The Identity of the Architect’, and author of’ ‘Is It All About Image?’. She is currently teaching media relations at the Architectural Association.

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