Architects Have Their Heads in the Clouds #ilookup


The American Institute of Architects recently hired The Purpose Institute to create the #ilookup campaign. The #ilookup campaign is a multi-media campaign that is supposed to reveal the importance of architecture.

The Purpose Institute! Yep, amazing name. Perhaps if architecture had a name like The Purpose Institute we wouldn’t have an identity crisis, and we wouldn’t be attempting to dream up viral twitter hashtags to become relevant within society.

I didn’t want to be critical of people attempting to restore the value of architecture – this blog is my attempt at a similar purpose.

Perhaps I just just don’t fully comprehend the scope of the #ilookup campaign. I didn’t go the recent AIA national convention. I didn’t feel the buzz and the sense of awe with the presentations. And I wasn’t hashtagging every topic with #ilookup.

Moreover, I don’t want to use the hashtag #ilookup – because I never actually lookup.

Perhaps if I was an astrophysicist or an ornithologist constantly peering into trees trying to spot a reclusive Wood Thrush I would be looking up, but throughout the course of a day, the only time I might look up is to ascend a flight of stairs.

Nor do I look upwards when problem solving architectural matters.

If I have a problem I might #lookitup in a book or via the Interwebs, but rarely do I peer towards the heavens seeking infinite wisdom by #lookingup. Is the almighty Architect of the Universe going to magically bestow His infinite problem-solving wisdom upon us mere mortal architects?

I don’t intend to be overly critical of the #ilookup campaign, but instead want to further the scope of the campaign’s initiative. 

Robert Ivy asked me personally,|1| “to support the campaign,” and he even “encouraged me to watch the commercials and engage with others in a variety of levels.” Therefore, here is my engagement – on the lowest level.

Looking Up is what got architect’s into this mess in the first place. By looking upwards, we are in fact turning our noses down to the rest of society. Look at the graphic of myself; I am even on a chair with my elitist pose – nose in the air. Architects have often thought they were superior beings, but then they started evading responsibility – so now architects might still feel supercilious but no longer are demanded to fulfill societal needs.

Architects have become a luxury expense – denigrated to the equivalent of a Louis Vuitton handbag.

Architects were once regarded as great visionaries who plotted the course of our future environments. Whereas, technology prodigies are now considered the guardians of imaginative ideas. The scope of architecture is broad, but #ilookup implies an inherent urban condition. Skyscrapers.

I walk outside my house and look up and all I see is a Tree and a Lightpost. Nature & Infrastructure. No skyscrapers. However, architecture should not solely be relegated to urban environments.

I grew up in a small town where we had only one architect. That was past tense. Now we have zero architects. By delegating skyscrapers and urban environments as the ideal aspiration of architecture it further solidifies building codes as the only support structure for the relevance of architects.

Mies van der Rohe famously quipped,

“Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. There it begins.”

-Mies van der Rohe


The careful consideration of how you shape the built environment is architecture, and this is not restricted solely to skyscrapers.

Paul Shepheard took the definition of architecture even further,

“…chimps, sit in the downpour [rain] trying to keep the ground dry with their bums… all because they haven’t figured out how to build umbrellas. Umbrellas? Umbrellas are a mutant form of the desire to stay dry; umbrellas are a part of architecture.”

-Paul Shepheard


Architecture is more than looking up at skyscrapers – architecture is also Umbrellas.

A former professor relayed the following story to our class, and it has still stuck with me. I am not as gifted of a storyteller, but I will attempt to transfer the story as closely as it was transcribed to me:

A woman and her husband moved into a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This was never the woman’s idea, but rather her husband’s dream.

The woman would opine that the Frank Lloyd Wright house was too transparent and didn’t provide enough privacy. Her old house had more square footage, and even had a nook in the downstairs where she could do her ironing. Where would she do the ironing in her new house? There was no ironing nook!

Years later, her husband had passed and she was living alone in the house. Still disgruntled that her former house was preferable to this house – even if the “great” Frank Lloyd Wright had designed it. One day, she was upstairs ironing while looking out the large expanse of glass. She was watching the squirrels running around collecting nuts – constantly going up and down the trees. And at this moment she realized – “Why did I ever wish to iron in a dark cramped nook in the basement – when now I can iron while watching squirrels?”

That is the value of an architect – designing experiences that uplift and improve people’s lives. Is a hashtag suddenly going to make people start witnessing the squirrels? Is this #ilookup?

I would argue that the experience of architecture is actually #ilookoutLooking outside at the environment, the squirrels and trees that architecture captures.
Or #ilookaroundAt these experiential spaces.
Or even #ilookaheadInto the future of what architecture is capable of achieving.

The most recent AIA #ilookup campaign featured architect Chris Downey who became blind after the removal of a brain tumor. He claims he is without sight, but “not without vision.” In a profession based upon sight, and a hashtag implying the usage of only this sense, he uses his sense of touch to further experience architecture.

I too go around touching objects within the built environment. The warmth of brick in the sun, its rawness in the shade. The smoothness of metal panels, the coarseness where it has patinated. I should be the poster child for hand-sanitizer. Conceivably, #itouchthings was probably Robert Ivy’s first choice – but it had a poor connotation, so he changed it to #ilookup.

So here we are, after typing 1034 words I have come full circle – to a higher level – and realize there is a deeper message to #ilookup. Whereas, one needs to #lookwithin. Architecture is not simply glossy images of skyscrapers; rather, it is the experience of the built environment. I don’t #lookup at architecture to admire our remarkable achievements, but I do #lookup to architects like Chris Downey, not for overcoming adversity in a profession based upon sight, but for preaching the intrinsic value of architecture – the experience of the environment, the light radiating off your face, and perhaps even ironing while watching squirrels.



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1 OK, he didn’t ask me “personally”, but he did make a YouTube video where he peered directly into the camera – wearing his Le Corbusier eyeglasses.

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