In late 2014 the AIA launched the #ilookup campaign. I noticed, but didn’t think more deeply about it until @payettepeople posed the question: what do we see when we look up via Twitter. I went to my window and – well – looked up. With cell phone in hand I snapped a picture of the Federal Reserve Building on that clear winter morning. In this age of technologically driven work with our heads-down I thought the #ilookup initiative was a novel one.
But is looking up, and taking a picture, enough? It’s a good start.
The design profession could always use some positive PR. More than once I’ve listened to non-designer conversations that framed Architects as elitist, over-educated and out-of-touch. I can sort-of understand the harsh appraisal – Architects employ archispeak to communicate with other Architects. Designers of every type tend to do the same thing, I think. We’re trained to do this during those years of education – one could not defend his or her studio project without out learning the language of those to whom we present: our professors and peers. The reality, of course, is we do important work: learning about our client’s needs, considering our collective environment, solving complex programmatic problems, aspiring to Vitruvian values (and more).
With all that in mind would better tag lines be #ilookaround or #ilisten? Maybe not – they lack style and they’re inefficient in terms of the Twitter 140.
But honestly that’s what we do; as the #ilookup video says, we look, we listen. Our industry is comprised of a lively network of architectural hunters and gatherers who constantly look, analyze what they see, compose and re-compose space and form. We form opinions and we are more than happy to share them – even if we’re not asked. In this world of social media it’s easy to belittle what we don’t like and champion what we do (often our own work).
In my role as a senior planner at Payette, who by profession, spends a lot of time, at the beginning of project observing, and asking; quantifying and qualifying, it’s challenging to create quick comments and share opinions within the expansiveness of the Twittersphere. I think it helps a project and process to not jump too quickly to assumptions and opinions.
Without careful consideration it is easy to get the design problem wrong. Part of the challenge has to do with time and monetary constraints. Sometimes, those who have enlisted our services want the programmer and designer to tell the project end-users what they need instead of what I usually do, listen to what they want and observe what they do.
Assessing their work habits and needs as compared to what they have and what would best suit that work is a central part to programming and planning. Truth be told, I often do not understand the nuts and bolts of their research. I’m not a scientist, but I love science and I actively seek to figure out how they do what they do. I approach each project with fresh eyes. Certainly, I apply rules of thumb, heuristic methods that help speed the process. But to do that all the time may result in a less than responsive and tailored design.
To maintain a beginners’ perspective benefits our creative process and takes practice. The images that result from #ilookup and our collective looking around find their way on to our walls as inspiration; they serve as a record of early dialogues with clients, they share what we seek to express and communicate what we are feeling. To keep looking up, in essence, is to keep experiencing and re-experiencing the built world in an energetic, innovative way.
#ilookup, Part Two