Instagram is an integral part of how we communicate architecture today. It’s unclear how many offices, architects, or students use the social media app, but what is clear is that for many of us who have grown up as digital natives, it is increasingly fundamental to how we work. The app, which has become one of the most popular forms of social media for the general public, has found an interesting niche within architectural discourse. In recent years it has transformed from a mindless pastime to a powerful communications tool. Through hashtags and search engines, architecture students are able to connect with one another, tracking the development of projects across the world that they would otherwise never see. It is undeniable that Instagram has a presence in the hallways of our schools, one that has crept up rather unconsciously. Prompted by Tom Wiscombe, Chair of the B.Arch Program at SCI-Arc, a group of third year students—Nancy Ai, Anastasia Tokmakova, and Neil Vasquez—gathered at a local cafe to talk about the implications of Instagram and how to regain agency over its use. The conversation was moderated by Dutra Brown, also a third year student, and edited by Jake Matatyaou, SCI-Arc’s Liberal Arts Coordinator.

Drawing by Dutra Brown and Anastasia Tokmakova
Drawing by Dutra Brown and Anastasia Tokmakova

Nancy Ai (IG @ai_loveart)I remember I went to a summer program at Cornell three years ago and they took us to the architecture library. There was this one huge book and the TA, who had just graduated, told us “This is the bible.” It had all the important works. I don’t remember the title, but the idea that there is one book containing all of the work (which are also images) that we are all supposed to worship seems to be non-existent. Perhaps it’s been replaced by the hashtag? “Don’t read books, read hashtags.”

Anastasia Tokmakova: That’s a hashtag?

NA: We could make it a hashtag.

Neil Vasquez (IG: @neil_leonardo_)I know that I use hashtags to see the correlations between what people are posting, and why people would attach a certain hashtag to their work. How does that little phrase provide context to the image? How does it influence our reception or reading of the image? 

NA: It’s like a universal index.

AT: A universal index of what though? It is just pictures. If you look at hashtags and visual trends as legitimate representations of what is relevant in other schools of architecture, in general, you, by default, accept the assumption that the aesthetic is the priority, which is problematic. I think that the assumption is actually much more important and worthy of examination than all of the trends and themes that they generate on Instagram, which will probably die out and evolve into something else soon anyway. Don’t you think that taking Instagram seriously is a serious statement itself?

Dutra Brown (IG: @dutrabrown): Well, as architecture students, we are learning how to make images, but we are also learning how to read images. I have to believe that, at this point in our education, we are able to look at these things critically, i.e. with the ability to evaluate and make judgments. I think that looking through Instagram hardly implies anything more than curiosity, so the opinion that material found on Instagram can only go so far as “aesthetic” is one dimensional. I mean, behind student work there are course requirements, instructors, and ideologies. Even the most mundane and technical things are tied to their historical and philosophical place in time (see John May, “Everything is Already an Image”, Log 40). Even though it is not always explicit, there are certainly traces/residues of aesthetic bias, taste, and preference in the work.