Why Can’t the World’s Best Architects Build Better Web Sites?


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Writing for Fast Company, design journalist Alissa Walker argues: “Architects are the original interactive designers. They’re skilled at creating navigable structures. They specialize in designing rich experiences for their users. But if architects designed their buildings the way they designed their Web sites, they’d all fall apart.”

I might say that the truth is that architects design sites that fall apart because they can’t design buildings that fall apart — and that they secretly yearn to do just that. Well, they don’t yearn to make unstable structures, but they do yearn to indluge their more fanciful ideas about spaces (albeit virtual spaces) free of the constraints of making them physically accommodating to real people. The Web is their opportunity to do just that, partly because a lot of these architects, in my estimation, just don’t take the Web that seriously, or at least seriously enough to really understand it before building for it. Read the full article here.

  1. Not that I entirely disagree with Alissa, but I also think its a bit of a misnomer to point blame at a number of the websites she uses as examples. I can’t say for sure, but I venture a pretty good guess that a number of those sites are just plain old (old in web years being say more than two years). Of course they were done in Flash, that was the prevalent language for rich interaction sites before the rise of javascript libraries. Of course they are a bit obtuse/not on “trend” of current websites. I look at newer sites like REX architects and see them doing “the right thing” or at least what we know as the current trend in web design.

    I’d also argue that while possible that the architects named don’t take the web seriously, its just as likely they don’t need to take it seriously—yet. Just guessing out loud, but I’d wager Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid aren’t really finding their clients through cold web search. The next generation of architects is likely looking at the web for PR, but the starchitect generation of now probably has enough work (or did pre-crash) through theis professional network without a good website.

    Lastly, having been asked to look at a few architects websites in the past year, success is success regardless of its form. If an architecture studio is successful in the profession, their web design is likely to permeate the industry’s standard of a good website—that’s true of any industry. So when architects redesign, they look at their competition—”Morphosis beat us out for our last project, what does their website have ours doesn’t?” For strong web strategists that’s silly, but it has some rationale to it. Just be thanksful no one is equating the Gehry Partners’ website with their success in architecture.

  2. Derrick, your points about “success is success” seems spot on. It’s reasonable to assume that the Web is just not a major factor for these architects, for better or worse, which is what I meant when I said that they “just don’t take the Web that seriously.” Still, as lots of people’s dads, including mine, have said, “If you’re going to do something, do it right.”

    Regarding how old or current the sites are, I believe that the Diller Scofidio site is actually not that old. If memory serves, it was launched in the fall of 2008.

  3. Khoi —

    First of all, Thuy is beautiful!

    This month my daughter turned 23 and as advice, as I am sure all around you are saying, time moves way too fast — exploit parental leave as much as you possibly can! I am also reminded of this by my brother, 18 years younger than I, who just had his first child, and I am so envious as I remember my own “blissfully luxuriant” time with my daughter.

    Second, welcome back to blogging. You have a great voice, and I (we, I expect) have been missing it.

    Regarding architects’ web sites, I like your reading. (Mine was slightly different — link)

    At an architect’s lecture last night, a student asked a question about concept versus realization, or about the architect’s relative happiness with the vision versus the implementation.

    In this case, the architect, whose aesthetic is critical and rigorous, responded that the reality is so much better than the sketch. Her work is great and her response regarding her work is right for all of us.

    However, the experiential reality of her work (of which she also spoke, and much of which is at a frontier), is so-o-o much better than the (excuse me, Julie) experience of her web site. (Julie Snow Architects)

    Thanks, Khoi!

  4. Khoi,

    Yes, I sort of skipped over the Diller Scofidio site, for a few reasons. As Allissa mentions its perhaps the prettiest of them all—and I’d argue, pretty usable as long as you’re not using a mobile browser. I will withhold my full rant about Pentagram’s ability to design for the web (great “interactive,” bad “web”), but the DS site also brings up another issue that is much of the core of this “bad architect websites” discussion—that of a possibility of a “conceptual” website. When most web designers talk concept, is almost always in subtleties. When architects talk concept, its usually much more lofty (especially when not defined by building codes). There aren’t a whole lot of designers doing serious “conceptual” web design work—certainly not in the mainstream web community. And for fair reason: conceptualism tends to fly in the face of tenets of User Experience. Just like Frank Gehry’s buildings are a bit of a nightmare to navigate, it’s probably true that most architectss are thinking a bit differently than getting “web visitor persona #1 to page A in the least amount of steps.” I’m not certain its a bad thing either, though I can understand someone like Allissa being annoyed by it.

Thank you! Your remarks have been sent to Khoi.