Podcasts – architecture’s new voice finds an audience

10 February, 2020

With podcasts growing massively in popularity, Vicky Richardson asks which are the ones championing interesting conversations around architecture. 

There are currently 720,000 podcasts, according to the podcast production and hosting service Blubrry with the number expected to reach a million by the end of the year. Their popularity is often attributed to the fact that our lives are getting busier. If you don’t have time to read an article (much less a book), you can listen while you run, dog walk or even at work.

I’m not sure if I buy this. After all, in the developed world we have more leisure time than ever before. There are park runs, dining clubs, night walks, museum lates, ever more new ways of filling our spare time.

 It’s more likely that the podcast format appeals to our desire to hear ideas, human stories and opinions in a raw, unadulterated form at a time when the mainstream media has become predictable and unadventurous. 

 And so it is with architecture and design podcasts which have emerged distinct from the trade press. Apart from Monocle’s The Urbanist, a very competent survey of topical issues hosted by Andrew Tuck, most have been created by enthusiastic individuals.

 But brands are also getting in on the act. This month saw the launch of The Modern House podcast by the designer estate agency’s founders Matt Gibberd and Albert Hill. Both have editorial backgrounds and following the Modern House blog and magazine, a podcast seemed inevitable.

In the first episode Gibberd interviews Rosa Parks, editor of Cereal magazine and the pair enthuse about their shared love of Kettles Yard and the colour beige (or is it ‘bone’?). Of course it is easy to poke fun at lifestyle experts, but apart from the slightly self-satisfied tone, I found the interview informative and interesting.

Most architecture podcasts seem to adopt the interview format – a safer alternative to a conversational-style show. For the past two years Scaffold, which recently teamed up with the Architecture Foundation, has been releasing interviews with architects and designers every fortnight. Its producer, Matthew Blunderfield, is an architectural designer working at Henley Halebrown Architects. His Vancouver drawl is perfect for a podcast and he asks unexpected questions which draw out a different side to architectural figures we think we know from the press. His interview with David Kohn, for example, begins by asking the architect whether he is a fox or a hedgehog.

Former editor of Crafts magazine and Blueprint, Grant Gibson, also does the interview format with skill in his craft podcast, Material Matters. An experienced journalist, Gibson keeps himself in the background and steers the conversation expertly.

Something architecture podcasts seem to struggle with is informality and humour – perhaps the two ingredients that most define the genre. Architecture is of course a serious subject, but the profession’s determination to better engage with ‘real world’ issues is not helping its ability to communicate with the public, or even itself. Failed Architecture – Architecture and the Real World takes itself terribly seriously – I could only manage a few minutes before feeling too depressed to continue listening. UNS Talks, hosted by UN Studio staffer Steve O’Reilly interviewing members of the practices’s team including Ben van Berkel discussing trends, is another. Listening is like being at a torturous panel debate when you are longing for the after-talk drink.

 A notable exception is About Buildings and Cities, hosted by Luke Jones and George Gingell. Exploring architecture from the past to the present, through books, film and technology, it has an intellectual feel but manages at the same time to be funny, informal and irreverent. Jones and Gingell spark off each other and don’t profess to be experts on everything – it feels as if they are learning as they go along which is risky and fun. One reviewer commented ‘they sound a bit drunk’. Precisely. In fact, the more I think about it, sounding a bit drunk is probably the key to a good podcast!