Likewise, for architects who package and sell their house designs, the blogosphere is a dream marketing machine. When Interface Studio Architects principal Brian Phillips, AIA, LEED AP, joined developer Chad Ludeman to create the 100K House—a production model for small, green urban infill housing in Philadelphia—Ludeman's blog quickly became a feedback loop. “We got very excited about the ongoing focus group that unfolded,” Phillips says. “A rendering would go up, and people would comment on it.” Ludeman, the founder of Postgreen, then set up Facebook and Twitter fan pages to keep people connected. Several houses have presold, and “the next step will be a website that allows people to put together a house like you put together a Dell computer, by choosing pieces and getting pricing feedback,” Phillips says.
In this case, the blog is a powerful forum for touting an innovative concept—the housing equivalent of a Prius—at the right cultural and economic moment. “The thing we're excited about with the 100K House blog,” Phillips adds, “is that it's related to a project. We thought about doing a blog for the office, but do you really want everyone to know what's happening in the office every day?”
Probably not, says David Andreozzi, AIA, of Barrington, R.I.-based Andreozzi Architects. He rejects the idea of a blog for his high-end market. But, like Phillips and Ludeman, he does chat online about his emerging sideline developing modest house plans for sale. ”I want people to see that there's a lot more to architecture than just drafting a house,” he says. “It's a fun way to teach people about what goes into good design.”
Both Andreozzi and Merchantville, N.J., architect Gregory La Vardera enlist social media platforms to plug the Congress of Residential Architecture (CORA). In addition to the website message board and LinkedIn, La Vardera recently started CORA groups on Facebook and on Flickr, where like-minded architects can post images of their best work and tag them so they come up in other searches. In addition to an office blog, La Vardera has two Twitter accounts; one feeds into his Facebook page, the other to LinkedIn. Through these venues, which he, too, uses to promote house plans, he's landed a couple of custom home commissions.
La Vardera started leaving comments on message boards in 2000, not only to cultivate a Web presence but to stave off the isolation of solo practice. “It's a big part of my daily routine,” he says. “I read certain websites for design news and link interesting things from my Twitter feed or blog. I have this reflex now where I share it if it's interesting. As a sole practitioner, that stream of links is part of my work community.”
If there's a leading light in the online design community, it's Michelle Kaufmann, AIA, LEED AP. Although she announced in late May the closing of her eponymous firm—the latest casualty of the credit crisis—her fan base was stronger than ever. Kaufmann was far ahead of her colleagues in embracing multiple media outlets to beam out her firm's mission of making sustainable design accessible through simple and stylish modular homes. An early adopter of Twitter and Facebook, she also spent about six hours a week blogging and posted Martha Stewart-style videos of green-it-yourself projects on YouTube. She mastered a down-to-earth conversational style, often translating her design principles into ideas people could apply to their own homes. Response was gratifying. In 18 months, her YouTube channel on green living attracted nearly 2,300 subscribers and 67,000 viewers.
Coming up with fresh video material meant that Kaufmann and her staff were constantly multitasking. “Producing your own videos is not for the faint of heart,” she admits. “One needs to be pretty dedicated and kind of crazy.” But she views her parallel online persona as that of an educator. “Some people teach at universities; we made the decision to use those resources at the public level,” she says, adding that people are clambering for alternatives to energy-hungry homes. “If we don't start [offering sustainable solutions], we'll become obsolete,” she says of the profession. “It extends to using nontraditional modes of communication.”a matrix of connectivity
Other architects and designers are channeling the power of online media toward a social cause. Design Corps founder and executive director Bryan Bell, Raleigh, N.C., is still testing the waters, but he senses that the shift is inevitable. “I have people showing up for our summer student program after just doing a Google search of us,” he says. “It's amazing how rapidly they seem to absorb information on the Internet.” An employee put up a Facebook page for Design Corps recently, but Bell hasn't jumped in yet, for fear it will consume his time. “If I see that it's not just entertaining but also productive, I'll be a devotee,” he says.
In garnering support for his nonprofit design work, Bell wants to avoid the glut of unedited self-review that circulates on the Web. Instead, he and like-minded colleagues are trying to establish credibility through the emerging Social/ Economic/Environmental Design (SEED) Network, an interactive matrix that not only facilitates contact-sharing, but also certifies finished projects through an objective review process. “The idea of SEED is that economic and social issues are the second and third leg of sustainability,” Bell says. “Like LEED did for the environment, once you can measure change, you have a real clarity and ability to communicate among yourselves and with the public.”