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Rethinking design in the age of social media: U of T architect

Architect Adrian Phiffer, photographed at his Liberty Village studio, has found success on Instagram (photo by Romi Levine)

“It’s wacky. It's happy. It gets serious sometimes,” says architect Adrian Phiffer, describing his Instagram account as he scrolls through it.

For the past year, Phiffer, who teaches at University of Toronto’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, has been using the social media account of his design firm Office of Adrian Phiffer to brainstorm ideas, promote student projects, test out design concepts and engage with people inside and outside of the architecture world – and it’s worked.

He’s gained more than 5,500 followers in a short period of time.

“I'm a little bit surprised. It was unexpected,” Phiffer says.

Phiffer encourages those who view his account to look at it in the grid format. “I always think about what to post next as a sequence. I always try to establish themes," he says (image courtesy of Phiffer's Instagram account)

Instagram is providing a new outlet for architects to practice their craft and promote their work to a larger audience.

“For me, everything is linked. The work we do with the Office of Adrian Phiffer, with the Flat Side of Design (Phiffer’s imagery production firm), the things I'm teaching at school and the Instagram account – it's all related to a way of practicing,” he says.

It's a less-traditional way of showcasing design, says Phiffer.

“It’s been interesting as a way of curating and archiving our work in a matter that is very different from a website,” he says.

“On a website, you might only upload things that are properly done and polished. On Instagram, you can upload and show things that are part of the process, and that are sometimes more interesting than the final stuff.”


First Iteration #officeofadrianphiffer_coachella

A photo posted by Office Of Adrian Phiffer (@officeofadrianphiffer) on

He suspects the behind-the-scenes nature of the account is what draws people to it.

“We always think in our office that the process is extremely important and we somehow believe that if the process is good, the final product will also be very good,” he says.

Phiffer’s Instagram account also provides an outlet to highlight the work of the students he teaches at U of T.

“I think it's quite incredible and often goes beyond what's happening in the practice,” he says.

Toronto could do with some cutting-edge, experimental design, says Phiffer, and students can offer that perspective, he says.

At his design office, he practices what he preaches, employing U of T architecture graduate student Liusaidh Macdonald and alumnus Dimitrios Karopoulos.

While social media serves as a new way of promoting his company, Phiffer is particularly interested in attracting followers from outside of the architecture bubble.

“We're all happily holding hands and patting our backs that we're doing great work, but we are sometimes so disconnected from reality,” he says. “By actually interacting more and more with non-designers who are interested in good design, it's a confirmation that the language we use speaks to a broader audience.”

Read about other U of T social media stars