3 types of Architectural media and their influence on the marginalisation of architects

The role of the media in the industry can also be held accountable for the existing gap between architects and clients. Print media, in particular, has been a widespread medium promoting and reinforcing popular taste within communities of urban dwellers. The phenomenon has been further influenced by input from television since 1980 and the internet after that and social-media more recently. Architectural print media can be divided into three broad categories. First, one in which architects boast of their projects since they are always looking for recognition for being the intellectual and social peers of their elite clients (Gans, 1977). According to Kelbaugh (2004), Starchitects have established systematic global networks of criticism, critics’ circles and publications in which awards, books and magazines are the real media of expressing their status. In such magazines, photographs are privileged at the expense of physical artefacts and the people who use them (Salama, 2011). Second is the media of the construction industry and its promotional material that informs stakeholders about innovations and developments in the sector. The third is the one that talks about current consumer culture prevalent in our society. The influence of media and advertising provokes feelings of desire and fetishism within society and is discussed further in the paragraphs below.

It has been well documented that the media’s influence on people’s needs and desires is directly connected to our identities and the way we live our lives nowadays (Baudrillard, 1968, 1998; Veblen, 1970 [1899]; Bourdieu, 1984; Corrigan, 1997; Marcoux, 2001). This process is further fortified by the existence in contemporary society of a set of conditions described by Baudrillard (cited in Corrigan, 1997, p.20) as ‘the need to need, the desire to desire’, factors that are closely related to the now all-pervasive culture of advertising. Mark Gottdiener points out how the prevalent pervasive power of advertising has made people obsessed with goods and commodities. Possession has become a means of seeing ourselves, seeing others, and signalling the type of person we wish to be. The reach of material objects has been extended by commodification to encompass most aspects of human life in industrialised countries. ‘There is no want or need that does not already have its correlate in some object manufactured for profit. Consumer society is fetishisation writ large’. Therefore, advertising is closely related to conspicuous consumption in which commodities are assigned values, convey social meaning and form the basis of status hierarchies built on social distinctions (Bourdieu, 1984).

Effect of advertising in the marginalisation of architects

An architect’s reputation and that of the profession at large have been adversely affected in the past couple of decades, while other professionals involved in building activity have successfully captured large market shares, which were once an architect’s area of expertise. These professionals are giving tough competition to architects, which is good in a way for clients, but the flexibility they offer regarding alternative routes for procurement, i.e., usually charging after completing the work or service, has the added benefit for the clients leading architects to lose much of their business. They can imitate the role of architects in such a way that it is hard to tell the difference. However, the real paradox is that architects refuse to acknowledge this as a threat and still want to hang on to the outdated, traditional model of practice, seen in, for example, their unwillingness to embrace the change of being client-centred. They still expect that a client will walk into their office with a project and ask them to design a beautiful building. While the Architects’ Code: Standards of Professional Conduct and Practice prohibits them from advertising themselves, however, the importance of raising awareness amongst the public about the role of an architect and adapting to modern workflows, at the same time, cannot be undermined. Business models that enable a transformation towards sustainability must meet three objectives simultaneously: a) the provision of business incentives for the delivery of long-term service levels and performance; b) the empowerment of professionals within the businesses to act according to long-term goals; and c) adequate short-term returns for financing the two other objectives’ (Aho, 2013, p. 114).

In The System of Objects, philosopher Jean Baudrillard contests that customers are won over by the perceived notion that advertisers take an interest in their wellbeing. The latter display and project warmth through their intentions and demeanour to personalise the product or services. Through cultivated language, advertisers are not only able to convince consumers that specific products and services are essential parts of their lives, but also construct the idea of consumer choice, empowerment and simple solutions that inevitably appeal to the consumer (Leonard et al., 2004). Advertisements are marketed to bolster symbolic, designed and functional solutions. However, pressure from the media also cultivates misconceptions, can cause the consumer to question their perception of a home and can trigger pressure to maintain social confidence by succumbing to ever-changing trends, especially in upper-class societies. ‘What constitutes the ideal is of course always changing, if only incrementally, so the home is never finished’ (Perkins and Thorns, 1999).

Apart from focusing on the house as a product, home magazines highlight the lives of the ‘elite class’ and publish stories that ‘romanticise’ their lifestyle, which is not the readers’ lifestyle. Such media pressures not only bother but also challenges readers’ sense of home and induce in them a misapprehension; by way of regaining social confidence, they are induced to catch up with the latest trends. According to Hope and Johnson (2001), this is a form of pressure that ‘promises hope rather than understanding’ (p. 131). Once a particular product installation or alteration takes place, it becomes indispensable to upgrade and maintain a complementary aesthetic within that space.

Likewise, less expensive media is targeted at working- and middle-class people who have disposable incomes, persuading them to believe that they too can undertake home renovation by engaging in DIY activities. However, with a few exceptions, such advertisements of the ideal home rarely talk about the cost implications and other technical issues associated with renovating or achieving glamorous interiors. They do not stress the significance of and need to involve an architect or consultants in some capacity, nor do they state the effects of making such modifications. Imaginably, this is perhaps on account of customers own apprehensions that architects might suggest otherwise or recommend some other solution, which would, in all likelihood, hamper the advertiser’s financial interest. Thus, it is fair to conclude that even when such solutions often turn out to be costlier than originally anticipated, a majority of homeowners continue to prefer contractors and other building professionals over architects and depend upon the limited task-specific of such workers.

References and further reading

  1. Baudrillard, J. (2006) The system of objects. Translated by J. Benedict. London: Verso Books.
  2. Baudrillard, J. (1970) ‘Consumer Society’, in Poster, M. (ed.) Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings. Cambridge: Polity Press., pp. 17–26.
  3. Burr, K. L. and Jones, C. B. (2010) ‘The Role of the Architect: Changes of the Past, Practices of the Present, and Indications of the Future’, International Journal of Construction Education and Research. Taylor & Francis Group, 6(2), pp. 122–138. doi: 10.1080/15578771.2010.482878.
  4. Bourdieu, P. (2013) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Taylor & Francis (Routledge Classics).
  5. Gottdiener, M. et al. (2000) New Forms of Consumption: Consumers, Culture, and Commodification. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (Postmodern Social Futures).