Social-genic Architects | MARIA NOVOZHILOVA



Pending the proclamation of the 2014 Pritzker winner, below are the results of a popularity test conducted last year on a sample of 200,000 posts. The aim was to find out who is the most discussed, commented and appreciated architect on the social networks today (and why).


In a few hours’ time the Pritzker committee will crown “the Architect of 2014”. Everyone will probably already have their own expectations (influenced perhaps by personal preferences). Although in the past the Pritzker choice has at times proved foreseeable, there have been some surprises too. While waiting for the announcement, we have been trying to find out what the general public thinks, by analysing the Internet and its constant flow of information, opinions and tastes, also as regards architecture.

To that end, together with Voices from the Blogs, a spin-off from Milan’s Università degli Studi, our analysis focused on around 200,000 English-language public posts worldwide, published from 2 January to 25 November 2013 on the principal social networks, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goggle+, on various blogs and forums and on YouTube. The aim was twofold: to see who is the most discussed and commented architect on the social networks, and who is the most admired.

Those who thought that winning the Pritzker or directing a major cultural event (such as the Architecture Biennale) is all you need to become the most mentioned architect of 2013 will be disappointed. Surprising? Only in part. After all, what guarantees a presence in this modern virtual agora that we call the Web is above all the capacity to communicate. Photogenically, but also social-genically.


The most discussed and commented architect on the social networks in 2013


So it is no surprise to learn that architects who design iconic works, which are perhaps for that very reason easier to communicate and to remember, such as Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry, are placed, with few equals, on the virtual pedestal of fame. Next comes Norman Foster, but with 25% fewer comments than the top names on our list.


The 5 most discussed architects on the web in 2013 compared with last year's Pritzker winner, Toyo Ito


All the others lag behind. Even Renzo Piano and Rem Koolhaas, despite following the above-mentioned triad of most discussed architects, fail to capture even half of the comments received by those at the top of the web list.

That conclusion is all the more accentuated if we consider the architect of the year. The 2013 Pritzker winner, Toyo Ito, is not even one of the most discussed top ten, having got fewer than 15% of the mentions received by the competition stars.


The most discussed projects


But it is one thing to be mentioned, and another to be appreciated. Thus Zaha Hadid, despite winning the “race for mentions”, loses it in sentiment, or positive opinions, as it would be called in the jargon of social network analysts. In fact – a unique case among the architects considered - the negative comments on Zaha Hadid outnumber the positive ones, albeit only slightly. Similarly, Frank Gehry, who is at number two in the percentage of mentions, also comes second as regards the number of negative mentions received. In short, as the poet Arturo Graf said, “those wishing to be loved by all are liable to be hated by all”. And so both Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry are often criticised precisely for the forms (or formalism) of their creations. And it is here in fact that Toyo Ito gets his revenge, obtaining a dazzling 95% of the total positive comments.


Most recurrent image associated with the 5 architects selected


Thanks to this analysis of online discussions, we can also however go beyond ‘sentiment’. For example, we can identify which project by each architect is the most discussed. Do comments refer mainly to what has just been built, or does the Web have an “elephant’s memory”, preferring to focus on a project which despite the passing of time stays in people’s minds (and tweets)? Generally speaking, there is a bit of everything. For some (like Toyo Ito and Frank Gehry) the past is favoured, for others their design works. For others still, it is the experimental works, which may, as in the case of Norman Foster, extend to the designing of a moon base.

Finally, it is interesting to note that in the online discussions, every architect is associated with a specific predominant image. While some of these can be anticipated (for example, Renzo Piano’s connection with structure and technology, or Toyo Ito’s with the idea of a veritable “guru” of architecture), others are quite surprising. For instance, if we take once again Zaha Hadid, despite her resounding success in a field like architecture, traditionally regarded rightly or wrongly as male, is perceived firstly as a designer. Or again, in the case of Norman Foster, the discussion about the feasibility of his “moon” project is referred to the (much more “down to earth”) feasibility of his structures with more or less innovative 3D printers.

When all is said and done, there is no real winner. And perhaps it would have been wrong to think otherwise. Everyone in fact wins in their own way. One thing is certain however: whoever triumphs on Monday will be amply debated on the Web.


Article first published on Domus Web