In the modern age of sensationalism, consumerism, and widespread fake news, it's easy to understand why we feel the need to express ourselves through memes—the abstract photographs, video clips, and gifs that are manipulated in various ways to express thoughts on certain matters or situations that are relatable to people across the globe. Memes often expound complex yet concise sentiments which, in a way, closely resemble the way that we communicate in real life.
In the world of architecture, communication is often represented through critical essays, stunning renders and photographs, and hand-drawn analytical diagrams. In fact, architecture communication as we know it has mostly been a literal representation of the thing itself: Ideas are translated into plans, sections, elevations, details, form diagrams. But with the rise of memes and abstract expressions, why aren’t we popularizing our own personal thoughts with this form of widespread social media?
Here at ArchDaily, we've occasionally dabbled in memes and seen the huge popularity of this form of communication, with our most recent success showing the cast of American Chopper arguing over the Brutalist style. Looking further, we can see other examples of how architecture is being transformed into these hilarious images. Ryan Scavnicky, currently a visiting teaching fellow at the School of Architecture at Taliesin, runs an Instagram account where he explores how architectural theory and pedagogy can be translated into memes.
In an essay he wrote titled Seizing the Memes of Architectural Production, Scavnicky says “Architects and designers should strive to create images which encapsulate the aesthetic outcome of a position, whether that position is fully known or not. Is the corner problem a meme? In this weird framework maybe it is. Maybe so are 9 square grids, Doric columns, shape, the single surface, clouds, or dolmens. Architecture’s discursive successes share some eerily similar qualities with what marks general success for contemporary memes.”
Do a quick location search on Instagram for “United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel,” and you’ll see that his side-by-side comparison of the famous SOM building and a Toblerone bar of chocolate is ranked under the “Top Posts.” Impressively, the second most popular search under "Foster + Partners" links the firm's Mobility Pavilion design for the 2020 Dubai Expo to the form of a fidget spinner. These are only a few examples of the many ways in which these images can disrupt the flow of social media, and join in on the fun of architectural criticism.
Maybe it is time that we, as a community of designers, enter the 21st century, conform to the mainstream way we can share ideas, and transform our thoughts on design into memes. If memes have the power to turn ordinary scenes from SpongeBob SquarePants into a worldwide conversation starter, then they could easily bring digital architecture to a new platform. oR aRe We JuSt SpEnDiNg ToO mUcH tImE tHiNkInG aBoUt MeMeS ??