May 15, 2013
by: Melissa Marsh
Columbia GSAPP Dean Mark Wigley opens the night with a provocation: "If we're interested in social media, why are we even in this room talking about it?"Daniel Fox
Daniel Fox
David Basulto and David Assael of ArchDaily discuss their popular website.Daniel Fox
The ratio of architects to people in countries vary tremendously.Daniel Fox
Panelists discuss the relationship between architecture and social media: David Fano - CASE; Jill Fehrenbacher - Inhabitat; Toru Hasegawa - The Morpholio Project/GSAPP Cloud Lab; Tim Maly - Wired magazine; Grace Ehlers - Metropolis; David Basulto and David Assael - ArchDaily; and moderator Clifford Pearson, Deputy Editor, Architectural Record. Carlo Aiello - e-Volo, is on the screen.Daniel Fox

On 05.02.13, the AIANY Global Dialogues Committee hosted “Viral Voices: Global Discussions,” organized by Jeff Kenoff, AIA, and Bruce Fisher, AIA – the committee’s co-chairs – along with its dedicated members. This was the second of what may become an annual conversation around the combination of new media, rapid global communications, and emergent social needs. In both its topic and delivery – by a young and diverse panel – the evening was a perfect hybrid of Jill Lerner’s 2013 presidential theme, Global City/Global Practice, and AIA National’s Repositioning effort now underway.
As AIA National President Mickey Jacob, FAIA, has also advocated a new direction in leadership, the Repositioning includes a commitment to “engaging emerging professionals…at the level of values and interests,” not just service and programming. In the future we may see this moment as signifying progress towards a tipping point for our organization and profession.

Lerner’s opening remarks reflected on both the event and her theme: “In today’s globalized economy, this is a remarkable moment in time to engage the design community in an international dialogue.” Following Lerner, the evening continued with opening remarks – and light provocation – by Mark Wigley, dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia University. Dean Wigley’s introduction reached beyond the immediate conversation to the broader discussion of social media, suggesting the possibility that our profession is, in fact, in its infancy and is being presented with an opportunity to redefine itself. He highlighted the speed of change in our profession, combined with changes in communication media and building media, which produce the feeling that we all struggle with: remaining aware, much less relevant, in a world that speeds up every day. In this future world of virtual production among global team members, there will be a continued blurring of lines between production and experience of architecture. Wigley’s Australian accent and self-effacing humor set the perfect stage for what was about to come.

David Basulto and David Assael, founders of ArchDaily – “the Davids” as they came to be known though the course of the evening – dove into captivating tales of entrepreneurship, experimentation, social media, love of buildings, social architecture, digital designs, and more – all with a contagious passion for design and the people whose lives may be improved through thoughtful solutions.

After telling their own remarkable story of following a passion and starting ArchDaily, the Davids shared the story and design images of the Chilean architecture student Macarena Avila. A young woman hoping to break into architecture for vineyards, she met a vintner who was only producing wines for local production. Her designs for an employee break area where workers could enjoy their lunch became the starting point for helping the vintner apply for international certification, ultimately enabling them to export wine and grow his business.

Another student, Claudio Castillo, was passionate about bareback horse racing. He designed a pavilion for watching the races, and later discovered that funding for the space required this “Chilean Race” to be a national sport. After successfully petitioning the government, the sport was officially recognized and his design was built.

Through these stories, Basulto and Assael gave evidence of architecture’s role not just for building design, but for identifying a social and spatial need and filling it with a variety of creative efforts. Which brought us to one of the critical questions of the evening: Who will be designing the built world of the future? “Which ones, where, with what knowledge?” the Davids asked. They shared staggering figures about the population of architects versus total population around the world and particularly in emerging countries. For example, there are more than 200,000 architects in the U.S. supporting a population of 310 million; China has 27,184 architects for more than 1 billion people. With this, Basulto and Assael posed the question: “Who is going to build housing, commerce, services, hotels, hospitals, and parks for 3 billion people in the next 40 years?”

So, is ArchDaily the MOOC (Massive Online Open Courseware) of our profession? If not, who is educating the generation of architects who will be serving the global need as countries around the world move towards urbanization? If it is, then what does this mean for the profession, education and built world of architecture?

Though possibly too humble to explain it as such, it became apparent that Basulto and Assael do see ArchDaily – at least in part – as a global educational platform, a MOOC for the industry. It has come to be an organization as much by demand as design, fulfilling the needs of a predominantly young, highly global audience of designers, engineers, and very likely a next generation of what were once called vernacular designers. ArchDaily’s team is not unlike a perfect set of instructors for this global virtual course: “Our team, from nine countries, is filled with architects, designers, economists, computer scientists, engineers, and journalists.”

But what would such a global practice look like and how would it operate? Basulto and Assael started with at least a few examples, including how technology enables real-time representation of buildings as they are in design development – a window into studios around the world, creating a tutelage model for the future.

Clifford Pearson, deputy editor of Architectural Record, guided a thoughtful transition from provocation to conversation. He proposed three typologies for the impact of social media on the design industry: the relationship of architects with one another, the relationship between professors of architecture and students, and the relationship between architects and the general public.

The young and energetic panel, including Carlo Aiello (by live feed) from e-Volo, David Fano from CASE, Jill Fehrenbacher from Inhabitat, Toru Hasegawa from The Morpholio Project/ GSAPP Cloud Lab, Tim Maly from Wired magazine, Grace Ehlers of Metropolis, and Cliff Kuang from Fast Company, considered these typologies and added their own perspectives.

Through the course of the conversation panelists expanded on Pearson’s trio of typologies to include an additional impact: all architects and building users learn from each other through ArchDaily, in effect becoming students of architecture. Meanwhile, social media may also enable a relationship between buildings and occupants, either by occupants rating their experience of a building, or as Wigley presented, the idea that you might curate your own virtual building through collage – everyone becomes a critic and a designer.

True to form for such an engaging event – as many questions were raised as answered, and there is much more to consider and debate.

Melissa Marsh is a workplace strategy and change management consultant with an architectural education. She recently founded her own company, Plastarc. When attending AIANY events, she does her best to participate in the virtual conversation through Twitter. Marsh is a new contributor to e-Oculus and can be reached at

Event: Viral Voices: Global Discussions
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.01.13
Speakers: David Basulto and David Assael of ArchDaily, introduced by Mark Wigley, Dean, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP)
Moderator: Clifford Pearson, Deputy Editor, Architectural Record
Panelists: Carlo Aiello – e-Volo; David Fano – CASE; Jill Fehrenbacher – Inhabitat; Toru Hasegawa – The Morpholio Project/ GSAPP Cloud Lab; Tim Maly – Wired magazine; and Grace Ehlers – Metropolis
Organizer: AIANY Chapter


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