Gregory Cowley Photography

Mark English, AIA, principal of San Francisco–based Mark English Architects, is part of the vanguard of architects using social media to engage clients and each other. Through his work as an AIA San Francisco board member, English helped create digital forums to advance best practices, business strategy, and public policy. He also blogs about green energy, professional challenges, and good design as a way to engage members of the design community in a dialogue, as well as to underscore the design values that Mark English Architects represents. During my years of practice-building, I focused on the task at hand, but the Great Recession opened new horizons. Within the past three or four years, I’ve found that I’ve been able to gain a bit of perspective. I’ve developed ways to pursue other interests within the world of design. I developed the blog The Architect’s Take to share information about other architects whose work I enjoy, as well as any subject I might be interested in. To that end, we have interviewed small design firms we respect—like an architect who won on a game show and an architect who lost his sight. The idea is to reach colleagues in firms of all sizes interested in design, but as it turns out, we know from the blog comments that many readers are nonprofessionals who are interested in architecture.

I’ve been interested in real, measurable ways of creating efficient buildings, as well. I’ve always done Title 24 [California’s Energy Efficiency Standards for Residential and Nonresidential Buildings] calculations for my own projects and, for the past 15 years, for some of my colleagues. In the past three years, I decided to make this service a part of my practice, which allows me to collaborate with other architects through our Green Compliance Plus blog.

Social media are virtually free and unencumbered by advertisers or editorial constraints. I’ve given presentations and had many visits where I’ll sit down with colleagues to show them the mechanics of blogging and tweeting. I also serve on the AIA San Francisco Board, focusing on policy issues and the challenges small practices face, and helping create programs that put my colleagues in the public eye. One of the things we do is produce monthly presentations by architects around a design theme, to which the public is invited. The committee also started the Small Firms Great Projects semiannual publication, which contains the work of local architects and is distributed free to the community.

One of the great strengths of the architectural profession is the “generalist” nature of the architect—the breadth of knowledge required for us to do our jobs and the tendency for architects to be people who are forever curious. But there has been a fundamental shift in the way the world works, and the profession has to survive by being relevant to the world at large. We increasingly risk irrelevance if we don’t cooperate with each other and reach out to the larger culture. Power comes from sharing, not hoarding, knowledge. —As told to Sherin Wing.

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