The less-spoken field of architectural journalism

Journalists can translate technical jargon into accessible narratives that resonate with a wider audience. Their writing serves as the bridge between the visionary designs of architects and the clients who commission the projects

February 02, 2024 03:13 pm | Updated February 03, 2024 11:33 am IST

At any given moment, we occupy space. Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by buildings. Some are beautiful, some are grand and others, less so. As is human nature, we instantly forget most of the buildings we experience, either passing them by without a second thought, or forming a quick opinion on them and then moving on. On your evening walk, you pass a few hundred buildings and you don’t come home thinking of any one of them. Not even that wonky red brick house on the corner with the long thin windows. Often, the restaurants get noticed momentarily, but soon enough we move on.

Now imagine yourself for a moment in a museum of buildings. Like one devoted to art, the display here has been selected from thousands of buildings over history, with only the very best and most interesting ones selected for your attention. Every building here matters; there are no background buildings here, only important ones. They hold your attention because you are told why they were chosen.

Let’s jump back to your walk along the city and overlay the museum on your experience. That red building in the corner with the interesting brick pattern and the long thin windows — the one you always thought was a bit odd, but never really knew why — that architect was trying to weave a story about local materials, modernism and the historical evolution of the city into that building. But unlike the museum, he couldn’t place a plaque on the building telling you why and what.

Of course, a walk through any tourist-friendly historic district in the world is awash with plaques mounted on buildings, describing when it was built, who designed it, who lived in it and why it’s important enough to be preserved. In India, that privilege is often accorded to the dignitary that laid the foundation stone, but it tells us only about the politics of the time, and nothing of the building.

In the realm of architecture, marketing, journalism, and communications often take a back seat to the more visible aspects of design and construction. However, these less-spoken-about fields play a crucial role in shaping perceptions, disseminating information, and fostering innovation within the architectural landscape. In India, a country with a rich architectural heritage and a rapidly evolving urban environment, the intersection of these disciplines becomes even more significant.

Architectural writing serves as the bridge between the visionary designs of architects and the clients who commission these projects, conveying design intent and bringing it forth to the public domain. In India, where diverse cultural, social, and economic factors come into play, effective communication strategies are essential to convey the unique value propositions of architectural projects. This involves not only showcasing the aesthetics and functionality of designs, but also navigating the cultural landscape, answering the question of why something was chosen to be designed in the way it was.

Journalism within the architectural realm plays a crucial role in shaping public discourse around the built environment. While mainstream media often focuses on high-profile projects, there is a growing need for specialised architectural journalism that delves into the intricacies of design, construction techniques, and the societal impact of architectural decisions. In India, a country grappling with urbanisation challenges and the need for sustainable development, architectural journalists can contribute significantly to an informed public dialogue.

Architectural journalism in India has the opportunity to not only showcase iconic structures but also shed light on the challenges faced by architects in balancing modernity with tradition. Issues such as heritage conservation, sustainable urban planning, and the social implications of architectural decisions deserve thoughtful exploration.

Journalists can serve as the conduits between architects and the public, translating technical jargon into accessible narratives that resonate with a wider audience.

For architects, communication is the backbone of successful architectural endeavours.

Within architectural firms, effective communication ensures seamless collaboration between architects, engineers, and other stakeholders — and further extending it to the public at large. Externally, architects must communicate their design philosophy, environmental considerations, and societal contributions to a broader audience.

In India, with its diverse linguistic landscape and regional variations, effective communication becomes even more nuanced and challenging, yet truly impactful in shaping the role of architectural design in the built environment.

Effective communication in the Indian architectural context goes beyond language. It involves visual storytelling that captures the essence of a design, making it relatable to people with varying levels of architectural literacy.

With the advent of digital media, architects have taken to leveraging platforms like social media to disseminate their work widely .Engaging visuals, augmented reality, and virtual tours can bring architectural projects to life for a diverse audience.

One aspect that sets India apart in the architectural context is its rich tapestry of cultural and historical influences. Architectural discourse in India must navigate this complexity by highlighting how contemporary designs blend with traditional elements, paying homage to the country’s heritage while embracing modernity. Communicating this fusion requires a deep understanding of cultural sensitivities and a keen awareness of the evolving preferences of a diverse population.

The architectural landscape in India is undergoing a paradigm shift with an increasing focus on sustainability and inclusivity. Discourse around buildings and cities needs to reflect this shift by highlighting eco-friendly practices, energy-efficient designs, and projects that prioritise social impact. Journalists can contribute by investigating and reporting on architects and firms at the forefront of sustainable practices, inspiring others to follow suit.

So, the next time you are out on your walk, perhaps the local newspaper would have covered that funny-looking red brick house. You would look at it with an appreciation for the use of local materials, how the long thin windows keep out the harsh afternoon sun, and how it never needs painting. You would secretly hope that there would be more nice buildings like these. At long last, the writer of this piece could finally rest.

The writer is Founder, Epistle.

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