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What architecture can learn from following fashion

8 May 2013 | By Leanne Tritton

Architects need to take a leaf out of fashion’s book to get ahead


First the bad news. Architecture has a “category” problem. Too few people — including business leaders — understand what it can do to improve their daily lives. This means that there are too few people on the “buy side”.

Fashion has successfully done what architecture has so far failed to do. Nearly everyone, regardless of demographics, understands it and has a way of accessing it at any price point. From Top Shop to Prada, the industry has marketed itself in a way which means the public is design-literate and the industry continues to grow.

One could say the same about the way the furniture industry has evolved. Perhaps this was down to Ikea and Habitat, but the bulk of the population understands a well-designed chair is a good thing.

Architecture, on the other hand, is perceived as elitist and expensive. If you did a quick survey of the members of the Institute of Directors, they wouldn’t blink an eye at spending money on accountants, human resources or training. But few would have an inkling of what an architect could bring to the table. Business owners are probably more inclined to spend £10,000 on a circus skills class for team bonding than using the skills of an architect to reconfigure their office for year-round benefit.

The good news then is that the opportunity to grow the “category” is huge. Design is appreciated on many levels, so it is not beyond comprehension that the public can be switched on to architecture. However, there needs to be a shift in how we as an industry engage.

For government, the message should be crystal clear in the same way the construction industry communicates — have you ever seen a politician refuse an opportunity to be seen in a hard hat? The growth of architecture means jobs, jobs, jobs — not only for architects but all the associated disciplines.

We need to talk to the government in a language it understands. At the moment, it sees only “cost”. Likewise we need to communicate how good design cuts operational costs. For the person on the street, we need to make architecture accessible — part of the common cultural language.

This is not about dumbing down. It is about recognising that a huge untapped market exists for architects of all shapes and sizes.