Interest in architecture is growing

Having gained the media's eye with notable projects and 'starchitects,' the architecture industry now seeks to design creative plans to build on that foundation.

Having gained the media's eye with notable projects and 'starchitects,' the architecture industry now seeks to design creative plans to build on that foundation.

Architecture and design has been receiving a flurry of media interest lately, particularly in light of high-profile projects such as the plans to rebuild Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.

In many ways, however, the sector has been on the upswing in the press for years with "starchitects" such as Frank Gehry able to combine great talent with a penchant for publicity. As a result, Claire Whitaker, president of The Kreisberg Group, notes that architecture has become a bit of a glamorous profession, adding, "We've been seeing architects as love interests in sitcoms for the past seven or eight years."

But outside of a handful, or maybe two handfuls, of serious architectural critics at major outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Chicago Tribune, most reporters come into the field with little expertise.

Educating the media

"It does require more reporter education if they're going to be talking about design," explains Joan Capelin, president of New York-based Capelin Communications, as well as the author of Communication by Design. "The vocabulary will be different than when you're writing about politics or real estate."

"Most reporters who don't know much about architecture and design are more than happy to be educated," adds Cara Battaglini, media relations specialist with the American Institute of Architects. "The way we handle the press is with knowledge communities, who are specialists in fields such as environment- friendly design or high-end residential or public architecture."

Though it can be a fairly specialized field, Whitaker credits the general media, especially the national newsweeklies, for delving more deeply into architecture and educating the public about what's good and bad in a building design. "There are a couple of really interested, good writers who follow architecture at both Time and Newsweek," she says. "Though they can be critical, that's probably everybody's favorite placement."

But in many ways, architecture reporting and criticism is different than reviews of movies, music, or theater in that the opinions don't immediately impact sales. But Capelin notes that critics do play a major role in an architect's long-term prospects. "An architect's reputation is all he has," she explains, "So he's only as good as the latest building."

The challenge facing architectural PR is that major projects can take years, if not decades, from conception to completion. That means the media focus tends to be in fits and starts.

"There's excitement when the job starts, but deep excavation generates little media interest," Capelin says. "So the next thing they want to know about is the completion of the building or the infrastructure because that's what the public can see."

CC Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Architecture magazine, says he's noticed an increased effort to get the media involved earlier in the design process, especially by cultural institutions such as museums and symphonies. "They tend to be very aware of the importance of architecture to their efforts," he notes "They put a great deal into PR related to hiring a world-renowned architect or hosting a competition among architects to design a new project."

When pitching architecture-themed stories, Sullivan advises to simply stress the importance of good art. "We get a lot of pitches without any accompanying visuals, which is a bit silly because the first thing we want to know is what it looks like," he says.

Most coverage of architecture tends to focus on major public buildings, but there is a whole subset of print outlets devoted to residential design whose impact can't be underestimated.

"If you get a house that you've designed into Architectural Digest, clients will knock on your door," says Capelin. "It's automatic." But Capelin adds that getting into a major publication like that can be a long and expensive process, in many cases because the client ends up being responsible for hiring the photographer.

Beyond print coverage

While primarily a print phenomenon, architecture does get some coverage on TV and radio, most notably The Charlie Rose Show, whose host is very interested in the field. But the boom in home-remodeling programming on networks such as HGTV hasn't had a huge impact on the architectural community.

"Most of those shows are done in production houses and if the relationship with them in not pre-existing, they're tough to crack," notes Battaglini. "We have some members who get involved in those programs, which is great. But these shows don't always work with licensed architects and there are some architects who feel that glue-gunning foam molding to a ceiling, for example, is not good design."

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Pitching... architecture and design

  • It's all about visuals, so know the photographers favored by the leading architectural titles and use them to create the art for your pitch

  • Most architects are far more comfortable designing than interviewing, so take the time to do media training so they can communicate their vision in concise, plain English

  • A lot of architecture stories get covered by reporters from other beats such as metro or real estate, so be prepared to do some reporter education

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