Blog Page

Shanty Town - What is the Real World

What is the ‘Real World’?

Is it the shanty town seen above? Or is it this concert hall by Frank Gehry?

Gehry - What is the Real World

What is the ‘Real World’?

That question ranks right up there with ‘What is the meaning of life?’ It’s all about perspective right?

That’s the spin I’m putting on this month’s #ArchiTalks article.

Have you been following along with #ArchiTalks?

Here’s the format: every month someone (usually Bob Borson of Life of an Architect) throws out a topic and a growing number of us in the architectural profession wax poetic (more or less) on the subject.

You can find a complete list of everyone participating in this month’s #ArchiTalks challenge at the end of this article.

Did you miss last month’s articles? My contribution was “How I Get Through My Day: My Favorite Things”

As I’ve been mulling over this month’s #ArchiTalks subject, ‘Architecture in the Real World’, it occurred to me that our profession is in an interesting place right now; perhaps the most interesting place we’ve ever been.

As I contemplated this, 3 events immediately came to my mind.


Genius Purveyor of Pure S*%!

Late last year Frank Gehry provided plenty of fodder for the pundits and critics when he said: “98 percent of everything that is built and designed today is pure s*%!.”

It’s true that’s one statement taken from a longer, slightly more eloquent and slightly less abrasive response to a press conference question.

It’s true Gehry’s work is award-winning and often heralded as genius.

It’s also true that Gehry is sometimes called the ‘World’s Worst Living Architect.”


No More Future Through the Power of Design

Earlier this year, Architecture for Humanity laid off all the employees in its San Francisco headquarters and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The Not-For-Profit Organization that was formed to build “a better future through the power of design” because “everyone deserves access to the benefits of good design” has collapsed under its own weight.


1857 or 2015 Who Can Tell?

In an effort to better explain the value an Architect brings to the world, the American Institute of Architects launched the #ilookup campaign. The AIA has followed that up with the launch of television commercials in the same vein.

A few months ago in “Architects can Improve their Marketing by Incorporating Storytelling” I told the story of 13 men who got together on a brisk February morning to talk about essentially the same things … the year was 1857. It seems the story has changed very little in the 158 years since.


What do these 3 events have in common?

Does the Architect of some of the world’s most distinctive, most expensive, most litigated buildings operate in the real world?

Does the collapse of an organization that set out to bring relief to communities in extreme need signal that there isn’t a business model where Architects can effectively serve clients of less than elite status?

Does the fact that the American Institute of Architects has to consider a Repositioning Initiative and launch campaigns like #ilookup to remind the public that we’re still relevant (a discussion that’s 158 years old) signal that we’re out of touch?

What is the ‘Real World’?

I decided that I’m not going to try to answer that question. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to answer the question.

In fact the only statement I’m going to make is that if the events that I’ve referenced are any indication, it’s no wonder Architects struggle to prove their relevance. You live and work in the Real World. Your family, your friends and your neighbors live and work in the Real World. How are you connecting with them in the Real World?


Let me leave you with this trailer from “Citizen Architect.” I think it contains some thought provoking commentary.

What is your ‘Real World’? Let me know in the comment section below. I’d like to hear from you.

Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall Image by: Carol Highsmith


In the meantime, here’s a list of the other professionals that are stepping up and pushing us forward. Let’s see what’s exciting them:

If you’re interested in joining in the #ArchiTalks fun for future posts leave a comment in the Speak Your Mind area below and I’ll make sure you’re including on the email chain going forward.

My goal is to start an open dialogue and let Architect of the Internet be a forum where we can all learn to have success in the business of architecture through Social Media.


About Jeff Echols

Jeff Echols is the creative Storyteller for Award-Winning architecture firms and the Social Media Campaign Manager for industry professionals. He is a graduate of Ball State University with over 20 years’ experience in the marketing departments of firms ranging from three to three thousand employees.

Jeff spends countless hours studying, developing and implementing strategies for insuring marketing success for Architects and other business owners in the online arena. He documents the good, the bad and the ugly in Social Media at Architect of the Internet and speaks about Conquering Social Media in venues ranging from the Board Room to the Convention Stage.


  1. Great thoughts, Jeff! It always comes back to the story, doesn’t it?

    • It’s always about the story Lora! Is your story the story of rags to riches or even the hard luck life? Is your’s the story of being born with a silver spoon? Whatever your story is begins to define what your Real World is. Thanks for your comment. – Jeff

  2. Andrew Hawkins says:

    Interesting perspective and nice to tie all of those recent vents together. I for one was not amused by Gehry’s comments on his fellow architects. But he is entitled. In every sense of the word I think. But I do agree that is seems like the real world is always changing to be in the same place. Something about history repeating itself.

    • I think we could have a pretty deep philosophical discussion based solely on Gehry’s comments Andrew. Although I see your point, my view isn’t necessarily that the Real World is always changing. I think there are many different versions or perspectives on what the Real World is. Case(s) in point: the Real World for the concert hall Client (Disney) is VERY different than the Real World for the Music Man (Rural Studio Client). How do Architects bring value to both those Real Worlds at opposite ends of the spectrum? Thanks for your comment. – Jeff

  3. Jeff, as someone who has seen the shanty towns as well as the glittering Gehry (before it was sanded) – the disparity is huge. But isn’t it all architecture? Primary function being providing a shelter against elements, and serving the use it was planned for.. Architecture in real world!

  4. Rex Prater, AIA says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Jeff.

    I think your last paragraph is very real – I know feel like I live in the ‘real world’ and can clearly testify that life is not easy. Others, I’m sure, think differently. I think the same could be said for your three examples(?) but I don’t really know specifically what is going on other than what I read. Last week, while enjoying the Chinese New Year while listening to the LA Phil at the fabulous Disney Hall, I was thinking how different Gehry’s world of practice is from mine. I think the difference is HUGE.

    Maybe the ‘real world’ is about understanding the average human experience – there are those of us (speaking for myself) who are trying to find it and those who left it long ago.

    • Thanks Rex. It is all about perspective isn’t it? Like you said, your and my perspective of the Real World is likely VERY different from most of Gehry’s clients. Our relevance is based on the value that we provide our clients where they are; in THEIR Real World. I think another interesting part of the discussion is that there must certainly be many more Real World clients like yours and like Rural Studio’s than like Gehry’s … the ‘average human experience’ as you say. Would our profession and our world benefit greatly by our being relevant and adding value to a larger segment than the elite clients? Again just thoughts, no answers. – Jeff

  5. I am troubled by the collapse of Architecture for Humanity and that it is a signal that there isn’t a business model that exists where architects can serve people with less than elite status. I know that there is some truth to this observation, I see it in some capacities in my own practice. This would make a great discussion because the missing ingredient from that statement is the word “value”. You can get a lot of architecture for the cost of what most people pay for their monthly phone, data and internet plan … but they don’t want to because they don’t recognize the value. One thing I think architects have historically been terrible at is explaining to the masses why the work they do matters. They’re great at talking to one another architecture and as a result, they have ostracized just about everyone; they have made architecture appear to be an item of luxury when it should be something that everyone recognizes and wants for themselves.

    • Agreed Bob. The ‘value’ statement is obviously one of the drivers of the #ilookup campaign and it is the key. Until we can sell the value to our clients, wherever and whatever they are, we’ll continue to be commoditized. Thanks for your comment and for driving the #ArchiTalks bus. – Jeff

  6. Nice thoughts. These are questions we’ve been asking and will continue to ask for a long time. Hopefully we learn a little each time we ask them, and work towards a better design future.

    I’d love to get on the list to participate in #Architalks. Let me know what the next topic is and when to publish!

    • Thanks Brinn for your comment Brinn. I agree, these questions are on some level timeless questions. Maybe that’s the point, every Architect, every Client, every End User, everyone that experiences architecture has to make their own judgement about what Architecture in the Real World is. – Jeff

  7. Jeff, really enjoying your blog since discovering through #architalks.

  8. Jeff, i think you have really hit on something here. The film Citizen Architect is a wonderful example of how Architects can be relevant and make a difference in the world. And like Bob, i am troubled by the collapse and what, as you so aptly point out, it may signify.

    • As I think about the necessary and extreme creativity (and underwriting) that students at the Rural Studio bring to their projects, I often wonder how many Architects would be willing (and able) to go to the same lengths, especially when you factor in mundane, real world factors such as risk management, contract law, litigation, project cost and making a living. Those things may define the gap between the Real World of the practice of Architecture and the Real World of the Clients that need Architects most desperately. Thanks for the comment Matthew. – Jeff

  9. For a non-architect like me (I photograph architecture) this is a brilliant discussion by some people that are much smarter than me. Thank you for helping facilitate this, and I look forward to future topics.

  10. Great thought provoking topics, Jeff. Architects using their time and talent to combat poverty through design are the OPPOSITE of out of touch. There are a lot of firms offering 1% pro bono projects, and individuals like my colleague Stefan Pinhero who grew up looking at shanty towns and addressed their unique issues in his Master of Architecture thesis. Blog about his shanty town design solutions here:

    Hopefully the difficulties a non-profit is facing doesn’t discourage individuals and firms to continue with Architecture for Humanity’s work and goals.


  1. […] Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet @Jeff_Echols What is the Real World: Architecture in the Real World […]

  2. […] in the Real World” “Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet @Jeff_Echols What is the Real World: Architecture in the Real World” “Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect @LeeCalisti Architecture in the Real […]

  3. […] Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet @Jeff_Echols What is the Real World: Architecture in the Real World […]

  4. […] Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet ( @Jeff_Echols ) What is the real world […]

  5. […] Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet @Jeff_Echols What is the Real World: Architecture in the Real World […]

  6. […] Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet @Jeff_Echols What is the Real World: Architecture in the Real World […]

  7. […] in the Real World Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet – @Jeff_Echols What is the Real World: Architecture in the Real World Bob Borson – Life of An Architect @bobborson Architecture in the Real Wolrd … […]

  8. […] in the Real World Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet – @Jeff_Echols What is the Real World: Architecture in the Real World Bob Borson – Life of An Architect @bobborson Architecture in the Real Wolrd … sorta  […]

  9. […] Jeff Echols – Architect of the Internet (@jeff_echols) “What is the Real World: Architecture in the Real World” […]

  10. […] in the Real World” “Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet @Jeff_Echols What is the Real World: Architecture in the Real World” “Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect @EntreArchitect The HGTV Affect” […]

  11. […] Jeff Echols | Architect of the Internet […]

  12. […] Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet @Jeff_Echols What is the Real World: Architecture in the Real World […]

  13. […] Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet @Jeff_Echols What is the Real World: Architecture in the Real World […]

Speak Your Mind


↑ Top of Page