Before Justin Larson, AIA, set up his Pinterest account earlier this year, he and the team at Cheyenne, Wyo.-based Vaught Frye Larson Architects discussed design with clients by paging through binders filled with magazine clippings and other snippets of inspiration. Now, he says he has exchanged boards—the site’s way to collect images—with at least four clients and hopes to continue the push into the cloud.

“Buildings are getting so complex. [An architect] can’t sit in a room with the door shut and with no connection to the outside world,” Larson says. “As an industry, there’s value in conversation.”

Pinterest is a site of all trades—think wedding planning, recipe scrounging, travel photography, and kitchen remodeling. And its visual savvy is what’s prompting an increasing number of architects to add the platform to their strategic toolbox. The architecture community hasn’t, however, decided on a standard approach. Instead, firms are tailoring it to meet their needs by using it to fill in gaps or to shake things up.

If the shots of finished projects aren’t enough to woo potential users, the traffic stats should be. According to one report, Pinterest was second only to Twitter in referral traffic in May, beating YouTube, LinkedIn, and Google. Although experts note that the darling of online social platforms is losing momentum, Business Insider’s Nicholas Carson expects renewed growth via users who are likely to be drawn to the site by word of mouth. He reported in April that a burst of growth in early 2012 was likely driven by “a lot of try-out-the-latest-hot-thing types,” and that many have since ditched their accounts.

Larson says his wife tipped him off that Pinterest might be an asset to the firm. “Architecture is such a visual medium,” Larson says. “I’d constantly see [something], whether it was an image of a product, and I’d have to think, ‘OK, where did I see that?’” Now, the thoughts are just a few clicks away.

When Pinterest launched in March 2010, one of three brains behind the platform and the one focused on design was Evan Sharp, an architect by training with a degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Sharp told Mashable in December: “When I was designing Pinterest, I was in grad school for architecture, so I was using it for architecture-related drawings and buildings, and I always assumed it would catch on with the design and architecture world. … I didn’t think as much about target audience as I was thinking about creating something that was really cool and that could have enormous potential as a platform if we ever wanted to invest all of our time in it.” Turns out he was a bit of a psychic as well.

The site is picking up steam among firms who do residential work. Buffi Robbins, business manager for TMS Architects in Portsmouth, N.H., set up the firm’s account four months ago as a way to showcase (and market) its project work. “We made a commitment a long time ago to photography,” she says. “We have this amazing library of pictures, which is why we are at an enviable spot in Pinterest because we have a lot to draw from.”

Tami Hausman, a public relations executive to the design/build industry, says that for all its hold-ups, Pinterest tends to be conducive to architects’ online image-sharing needs. Plus, it’s free, easy to use, and can be synced with Twitter and Facebook for a multiplatform approach.

Unlike Facebook, through which firms can share images and be found by clients, Pinterest’s search-by-subject method means that users are more likely to come across an architect’s boards when they share a common interest.

David Marlatt, AIA, of DNM Architect in San Francisco is taking advantage of the subject associations, but doesn’t expect it to draw new clients—he’s more active on the home design/improvement-branded platform Houzz. Still, his Pinterest boards correspond to areas of the home, such as stairs, kitchens, bathrooms, exteriors, and areas of interest that include energy-efficient heating sources, birdhouses, and even parody construction. “It’s a window into my firm,” he says. “What I think a client who is considering hiring me is looking for.”

In response to an AIA Network blog post that offers Pinterest best practices, Kevin Harris, FAIA, of Baton Rouge, La.-based Kevin Harris Architects commented that, in addition to sharing ideas with clients, his firm uses Pinterest to keep clients realistic about their budgets. “If a client wants to spend $20,000 on a kitchen renovation and only shows photos where a couple of appliances eat the entire budget, we can have a frank and candid discussion before any drawings begin,” he writes. “Saves time and heartache to be able to do this as early in the process as possible.”

However, that all might not be enough to continue to grow the industry’s momentum on the site, argues Hausman. Another element of the architecture community picking up the platform is the potential for their work to be “pinned” by readers of the online media in which the firms’ projects are featured—or, by each other.

“Then it becomes a dialogue,” she says. “Otherwise, it’s just a one-way street.”

For more on this topic, read this article from our sister publication, Builder.