A quick guide for architects – writing about what you do
7 February, 2018
The phrase ‘writing workshop for architects’ doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, but I’m hoping it won’t be long before it does. Over the last few months I’ve found that herding a group of architects into a room with just me, some paper and pens, and then shutting the door behind us is the best way of getting architects to rethink how they write about what they do.
A couple of weeks ago, it was the turn of the Archio team – and some fellow architects who work in the same building – to be my subjects. Archio happened to be the winners of the Best Written Content category of last year’s Archiboo Web Awards, and I’d been one of the judges. So I knew what they were capable of, and I knew I’d be preaching to the converted. But I know, too, that writing is often the last thing architects want to do once a project is done, dusted and photographed.
As an architect words are your chance to explain what photographs and floorplans can never convey. Begin with your excitement the moment you set foot on the site and then the challenges along the way and finish with how the finished building is as good as you’d hoped. That blank page is your chance to make your project so much more than a here’s-one-I-made-earlier moment. It’s your chance to let your voice do the talking and express something of the excitement of designing a great building. In other words, it’s the perfect spot to tell a good story.
Writing shouldn’t be so different to talking and we do a lot of talking in a writing workshop. We describe a project first with a sketch to hand and then without, and I’ll leave you to work out which makes for a more interesting story. We talk to a blank wall about our practice and then tell the same things to a fellow human being. The difference here is obvious (the first is difficult and acutely embarrassing, and the second is a pleasure), so shouldn’t we just find a way of tricking our brain into imagining our audience when we write?
Archio and their fellow architects seemed surprised – and delighted – by how much easier writing can be if you approach it differently. Without knowing it, you’ll be getting back to what really matters about what you do. And from there it’s just a short hop to getting the words down on paper. And then another short hop to inspiring people. You might even remember why you became an architect in the first place.
Juliette Mitchell worked as an editor at Penguin for many years and now runs architypal.co.uk. She runs writing workshops for architects, and she’ll be speaking at the RIBA Future Leaders event on 17th May 2018.