The pandemic has given architects time to think not just about the content they’re creating but which platforms are best to use– and that includes TikTok.
Dominating last year’s social landscape was TikTok, the Chinese-owned short video app popular with teenage girls and, because of its algorithmic feed, highly addictive.
At first glance, TikTok is an unlikely contender to topple Instagram as architects’ favourite app. Although 950 million TikTok videos have used the hashtag #architecture, there’s a surfeit of ‘dream homes’ and ‘luxury bathrooms’ set to dance music.
When I first opened the app and typed in ‘architecture’ I was taken to a video of ‘the Putin House’ – an imaginary lair deep in the forest, designed by Russian architect Roman Vlasov. Although the video is underwhelming – nothing happens – it had 32,000 views after just a couple of days. Who knows, perhaps it’ll catch the eye of an oligarch who might just want to commission something similar.
But TikTok is growing up. Originally videos could only be 15 seconds or less, then at the end of last year this was increased to a minute. Now there’s a rumour that it will soon allow videos to be up to three minutes, broadening the scope of the content it can offer.
Architect Rion Willard (@rionwillard) cited as one of the top 10 architecture TikTok influencers for 2020 and who has been on the app since 2019 says: “TikTok is investing heavily to become an educational resource which allows architects to position themselves as educators” – by which he means there’s an opportunity for architects to use it to explain their role and what they do.
Tanzania-based architect Russell Henderson (@architectrussell) started experimenting on TikTok about a year ago and now has 242,000 followers – he is also an ‘influencer’ whose most popular video to date is on international paper sizes – although for sheer entertainment I can personally recommend his 15-second rant on the cost of RIBA overseas membership.
Willard says the secret to making it on TikTok is to ‘experiment’ to see what the audience likes, whether that’s tutorials on hand-drawing or Willard’s amusing tour of the Lloyd’s Building.
“I’ve experimented with all sorts of content from dancing (not my forte!), behind-the-scenes inside architects’ offices is always interesting, to historic and notable buildings and recently public spaces and processes about how things are made, which work really well too. Jumping on trends is super crucial and using trending music – this just means being observant to what others are doing – is effective also also very funny.”
Architect Tarek Merlin (@tarekmerlin) who recently began posting on TikTok, wants to use the platform to engage a younger, more diverse audience and as the start point for a more ambitious project -a series of short films on individual buildings presented in an “approachable straightforward style”.
“Generally, the perception of architects is that they are boring, stuffy and slightly elitist and snobby. Through presenting topics in a very approachable and straightforward style, and meeting lots of different kinds of architects, and seeing lots of different types of buildings, it is my hope we can change that’ he says.
But are architects really ready to embrace TiKTok?
So far none of Instagram’s architect stars, including Bjarke Ingles, Jean Nouvel and Norman Foster are on TikTok, yet a number of institutions including France’s Versailles Palace (@chateuadeversailles)are now on the app as a way of connecting with a younger audience for when the building eventually reopens. The results are hugely impressive.
And perhaps this is where TikTok’s real power lies – engaging young users who are not impressed by Instagram’s perfectly staged photos with extended captions.
That’s not to say that architects should stop posting on Instagram. But we are all less enamoured with perfection – vulnerability now gets better engagement because it’s more relatable.
But TikTok’s success is based on a word architects don’t talk about very much – fun, says Willard:“FaceBook is often friends and family like a family BBQ, Instagram is like a glamorous night out in a rooftop bar, LinkedIn is like a business networking event, Twitter is like gossiping behind the bike sheds …..and TikTok is like a house party. It’s mischievous, super-humorous, alternative and highly creative”.