The Bite-Sized Guide to Architectural Journalism & Design Writing
Anupriya Saraswat - Editorial Strategist, Epistle Communications and Tanya Khanna - Founder, Epistle Communications
Among the many things that we at Epistle Communications undertake for our clients, is building effective design narratives to help them #BeKnown. Founded, managed and partly populated by architects at all times, the Epistle engine runs itself like a studio, fueled by the unique design thinking that architects imbibe from their college days itself.
While we take a lot of pride in helping architects find their unique voice to talk about their work and values, we have faced time and again the challenge of letting our words do the talking in a field that tends towards building narratives using visual mediums exclusively. Be it grueling design crits during college or the esoteric uncaptioned sketches by master architects, architects are influenced from each quarter to keep their words and their works separate.
The rest of the world, unfortunately, does not see the world in implied lines and rhythmic repetitions. Be it to explain our design intent, share our impressions, or pass on our learnings – we must cultivate the skills to express ourselves through the written word. And what’s more, some of us must dedicate ourselves to contextualizing, curating, and critiquing the architecture we produce as a community.
This, of course, is where design writing and architectural journalism come in. In the absence of widespread knowledge about the field, we decided to take matters into our own hands and host a free-wheeling discussion to share our insights on the matter – earned through years spent practicing the trade.
1. What are Architectural Journalism & Design Writing?
Architectural Journalism, simply put, is the practice of independent writing and commentary within the fields of architecture, design and urbanism.
Design Writing, on the other hand, is exactly what it says on the tin. A basic distinction between the two is that while Architectural Journalism is independent and community-oriented, design writing can be commercial.
A good rule of thumb: all architectural journalism is design writing, but all design writing and communications are not architectural journalism.
2. Why Architectural Journalism & Design Writing?
Beyond the need to understand how architecture forms a part of the zeitgeist, Architectural Journalism is how the community holds itself accountable. Unfortunately, the field is still largely uncharted, especially in India – this gives us, the present crop of designers, the largest opportunity to set the tone for the profession for decades to come.
Design Writing, on the other hand, is a crucial skill set that every architect needs to some degree. Whether to describe your project for a BD brochure, or to set up a website – we need the right words to catch the attention of the right people. Just like you’d spend hours learning every sketching technique, why not spend some time brushing up your Design Writing too?
Beyond careers, courses, and letters behind our names – both teach us how to speak a common language with our audience, and lend our voices to the design causes we think should be heard.
3. How do I start with Architectural Journalism & Design Writing?
To begin with, remember that any good piece of writing utilizes three components – Structure, Tone & Flow. Have a clear picture of the point you intend to make with any given piece of writing, and figure out the structure (what you say), and the tone (how you say it). Flow will then determine whether your argument is clear, cohesive and concise – and makes logical sense.
As we embark on yet another iteration of the lockdown, you can make the most of this time by using these components to practice writing a catchy and coherent project description. Think of what makes the project of your choice (or of your making!) unique and important. If you had only five words to describe it, what would you say?
Now assemble the data needed to describe its social relevance, site surroundings, spatial planning, and specific interventions. Zoom in from the big picture to the individual salient points, as you attempt to take your reader through a verbal walkthrough of the project. Now zoom back out and remind your reader of the big idea – why does this project matter? Do your five key words figure in this conclusion?
Do you leave the reader with the same impression of a building, whether with five words or a thousand?
If this has piqued your interest, we are happy to announce that we will soon be collaborating with ArchitectureChat to initiate an online learning module on Architectural Journalism & Design Writing for students and young practitioners. Project descriptions are just the tip of the titular iceberg – tune in to learn about everything from building reviews to building an architectural portfolio!