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2006 03 31
Attention Frank O. Gehry: Your website is missing
image
Go ahead - try to read that text, I dare ya!

My entry today was originally going to be a short piece about a swimming pool, but it will have to wait. It will have to wait because I need to point out something that never ceases to amaze me: architects have terrible websites (if they have them at all).

Not that a great website is the most important thing in the world, or that a great website necessarily equals a great architect - but it does mystify me that architects, being the species they are (technically savvy, design sensitive, structurally and methodologically sound), never seem to be able to translate these abilities into a promotional tool that, in many ways, is PERFECT for what they do. The web is seen and used by gazillions; is now quite good at delivering images and text; is cheap to utilize (compared to publishing a book), and can make bad things look good. What more could a struggling architect (and yes, they are ALWAYS struggling) want?

Well, less it would seem.

I did an informal web survey just now. I went to The Pritzker Architecture Prize website (for architects it's the equivalent of the Pulitzer or the Nobel) and then Googled the winners from the past ten years. I used the winning architect's name and the word 'architect' or 'architects' in the search field.

Exactly half of the winners from the last ten years--according to my search anyway--do not seem to have their own website:

Frank Gehry
Herzog & de Meuron
Glenn Murcutt
Rafael Moneo
Tadao Ando

Those first two are damn-near superstars now. The last three are cult heroes (for architecture students anyway).

So what is going on here? A few possibilities:
1. I didn't use the right search terms, and thus couldn't find Frank's office.
2. These people have 'secret' websites, but only provide the address to 'special' clients, and use what are known as 'nofollow' tags on their sites, rendering them invisible to search engines.
3. These offices don't actually have websites.

I think this last option, bizarrely enough, is most likely the case, and certainly the most compelling.

I have to admit that if I was as famous as Frank O, the last thing on my mind would be to build a website so that people could find me (and give his overworked office yet more work).

Besides, such are the times that simply entering the name of any of the above architects into the Google search field will return thousands upon thousands of images and words about the architect in question.

Is it possible that these five offices have decided to let the democratizing, uber-omnipresent machine of the web 'be' their website? If they have, it is a brilliant move. In this purposeful act of non-communication, these offices have alleviated themselves of the effort, time and resources required to build and keep-up an 'official' website. They seem to be happy to let the journals, groupies, newspapers and wikipaedia track their progress. After all websites can go stale very fast. And maintenance can be a hassle. And good design is difficult. For example, here's five stale and/or difficult sites for you to take a peek at:

www.oma.nl
www.daniel-libeskind.com
www.zaha-hadid.com
www.morphosis.net
www.utzon.dk

To save you the time, I'll point out that the above are in fact the OTHER five Pritkzer winners from the past ten years. Cumulatively, their sites read like a graphic and information design train wreck. These are some of the more egregious pieces of graphic design you'll have have the misfortune to try to navigate, read or get a contact phone number from. They are difficult to understand, browser unfriendly, w3c standards noncompliant, and just plain irritating.

So why not fix these things up so that they look, feel and operate a little better? Are these offices too busy? Too poor? Hard to say. Though I doubt that cash flow is a problem for Rem Koolhaus.

Some would say that these websites offer a perfect window into the mind of the architects in question. After all, isn't great architecture supposed to push boundaries, to challenge our ideas about what buildings and the cities that they exist in are 'supposed' to look like? Maybe these websites are just irritating because I don't 'get them'...

But these people are famous anyway. Who cares if they have websites, or if the ones they do have are ill considered? 'Why not focus on some architects who could use the press?' I hear you saying.

Which brings me to that swimming pool I was going to write about. The building in question is the elegant Le Centre sportif de la Petite-Bourgogne on Notre Dame, just up the street from me. The project was designed by the Montreal-based Saia and Barbarese Architects, and it won the prestigious Governor General's Award for Architecture in 1998.

I'd love give you some more information about the office and their project, but Saia and Barbarese Architects don't seem to have a website... (Saia + Barbarese + Architects + montreal in google.com and google.ca = I'm not feeling lucky).

So, Monsieurs Gehry, Herzog, de Meuron, Murcutt, Ando, Koohaus, Libeskind, Utzon, Manne, Saia, Barbarese and (Madame) Hadid, if you're looking to be found or understood a little better, drop me a line. I'll see what I can do to help you out.1



1. Some of my best friends are REALLY GOOD web designers.



[email this story] Posted by David Ross on 03/31 at 03:45 PM
  1. With the following Contact information available on the web:

    Saia Barbarese Topouzanov Architects
    339 est rue Saint-Paul
    Vieux-Montréal
    Quebec H2Y 1H3
    Canada
    Tel: 514 866 2085
    Fax: 514 874 0233
    Email:

    You would think their website would be http://www.sbt.qc.ca. But you’d be wrong.

    Posted by dr. snuggles  on  03/31  at  08:59 PM
  2. My first thought is that the real clients and decision makers of architectural services are not of a ‘digital age’ and as such would never use the Internet to research an architecture firm. Yet that doesn’t explain the density and graphic mess of the OMA or Morphosis sites. These firms have long created graphic tomes and their approach to work. Perhaps this best answered by actually trying to read S,M,L,XL. The entire work is incomprehensible to me and while most of the book is a visual delight there are many layouts that are densely layered levels of text, graphics and photographs which are barely legible in print (though deftly handled by studio Mau) and this does not work well on screen. Based on conversations I’ve had with ‘older’ architects the topography of the Internet and it’s implications have been greatly misunderstood and ignored by the architectural community at large.

    Still, I feel a business opportunity exists to cyber-squat domains such as Gehry.com, whip up a simple portfolio template and auction it off whenever the giant awakes.

    Posted by Peter  on  04/05  at  02:21 PM

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