An Interview With Elizabeth Krasner
“At the end of the day, I’m assuming everyone on our Instagram is just someone who is interested in our work.”
Elizabeth Krasner is Communications Director at Studio Gang.
Tell us about your work as Communications Director for Studio Gang. What are your responsibilities? What do you do all day? What keeps you up at night?
I work on all public-facing aspects of Studio Gang, an assignment which includes our website, social media, press releases, press pitches, and requests for publication. To do this, I think about how we make and frame the content that gets used on these channels—photographing buildings, filming interviews, writing project descriptions, and working with clients to craft project milestone announcements and design reveals.
I also work with the team of other directors to think through our body of work in a holistic way and to orient our efforts towards the same big goals, which could be a project, award, publication, exhibition, or area of thought leadership.
A small part of my job is internal communications; I try to make sure that the best or funniest or most critical responses to our work get back to the teams and that everyone in our office is speaking about our work in a thoughtful and consistent way.
One of the challenges is that I think Studio Gang, as a practice, consistently wants to share our ideas and to solicit feedback from our constituents, peers, or the general public (we publish many of our design methodologies either as academic papers or as open-source booklets on our website) and that’s not always in line with the goals or timeline of our clients, be they big public agencies or developers. That tension is probably what keeps me up at night: finding the balance between sharing our work and keeping our clients happy.
How does the office use Instagram to create interest or promote the Studio Gang brand?
While it’s true that Instagram is a kind of promotion, I like that it is a way to share our work that is less formal than in the press or on our website. I can use it as a way to show things that are in progress (like our #studiogangunderconstruction hashtag), behind the scenes, or related to our culture and workspaces, in addition to upcoming and recent work. It feels like the only forum where I can have a direct conversation with people outside our brand about who we are and what we’re doing.
Wait. What is the Studio Gang brand?
Studio Gang is a leading architecture firm that is striving for excellence on all fronts—timeless architecture that performs environmentally, works for its users, and contributes positively to surrounding communities; we realize projects that push the boundaries of material and structural innovation; and we are an office that tries to set an example for others in the field in terms of how we practice, from pay equity to rooftop ecologies.
How are the values of Studio Gang’s architecture communicated in its online presence and in its media engagement? How do you make decisions about what, when, and how to share?
This is probably extremely inefficient, but it’s all done in the moment with me trying to capture what is happening around me and connect it to what is going on in the world. I can’t think of a time when we made content exclusively for social media.
My favorite Instagram posts are when I remember to bring my phone along to document our studio outings, events like the Dim Sum lunch organized by one of my colleagues every year, or a book club meeting, or our annual summer camp trip.
Studio Gang is composed of over 100 people and many of them have been there over a decade. The office has a really rich and vibrant culture, so I get excited to share that. I try to be instinctual about what to share, and not overthink it.
Is there a danger of oversharing?
Definitely. I’m always wary of exhausting my audience with over posting. I also check in with design teams and clients before posting any behind-the-scenes materials.
How closely do you work with Jeanne? Does the Studio Gang vibe emanate directly from her, or given the size of the company is it more of a collective feeling?
I work directly with and for Jeanne, and Studio Gang is a very clear reflection of her values and interests. She is very hands-on in the office about everything from office meetings to business development. While she doesn’t oversee the social media accounts, I work hard to try and capture her presence and, when possible, tell the story of our work in her own words.
You’re trained as an architect at MIT and the University of Toronto. How did an architectural education prepare you for the work that you’re doing now?
I think it definitely helps to have a background in architecture. Sometimes I feel like I’m the translator between architects and the rest of the world. The storytelling aspect was always my favorite part of architecture, which is probably why I was the only undergraduate during my degree to concentrate in the History, Theory, and Criticism stream of the architecture program at MIT! I like making architecture and architectural ideas intelligible to architects and non-architects alike. In the best-case scenario, that type of sharing feeds back into the work; it helps to refine and shape the way we present projects as they develop.
How did you move into working in architectural communications? What attracted you to that role within the ecology of architectural work?
Aside from wanting to tell the story of the work, I was interested in having a role in an architecture office where I could work on a lot of projects at different stages. That’s something that’s usually reserved for more senior practitioners, so it felt like a way to cheat the system. I’m also excited to be part of architectural communications, as it is relatively new area in the discipline and as such is a small world.
What is your take on the relationship between architecture and the media? Is architecture a form of media? Is the media obsession we know about from previous generations (even starchitects) still a thing?
I think it’s morphed into more of a kind of exchange. When I post something, I look at all the comments, I respond to them, and sometimes I answer technical questions. Our social media accounts are a record of both our work and culture, but also a public response to that production. I listen to what people have to say and try to learn from their reactions. For example, do people like it when I post more information? More images? Explain one thing from a few perspectives?
But yes, I think we’re still media-obsessed!
At times, architects also wear the hats of writers and editors. You have professional experience with this in addition to your founding of PLACE-HOLDER during graduate school at the University of Toronto. How are curating and editing related to design for you? Is design editing, and editing design?
I would agree that design is editing. It is a never-ending iteration of an idea until you’ve refined it to its essence and found the best expression for that idea. You’re always making refinements to what you’re showing and making decisions about how many layers of information you can pack into one image or drawing.
PLACE-HOLDER was a kind of antidote to this constant editing, “an attempt to capture the breathed life of architecture and design.” My friend Roya Mottahedeh and I started PLACE-HOLDER as a home for things that didn’t have an existing outlet in architecture school: side projects, failed inventions, abandoned passions, found objects, obsessive observations, material discoveries, and false starts. We wanted to crack open the black box of architecture school and to catalogue the things that are crucial to the process of making architecture but get left out of the final review or drawing set. Examples include weekend experiments with the laser cutter, summer pilgrimages to works of architecture, and documenting the spaces in which we produce architecture. We tried to be completely open to all kinds of content and put very few restrictions on what we’d accept and what the final publication could look like.
In a way, all of architecture is like this. Once a building is built, nobody cares about your drawing set or your material mock-ups or your scale model—they’re all just tools to get there, to the building. I think architects sometimes lose sight of this. In contrast with the approach in PLACE-HOLDER, we as architects tend to become obsessed with curating our own creative process at the expense of learning from the final product or the failures that came along the way.
My first editorial job was about five years before this, when I was working at Volume. I ended up there more as a result of the recession than by choice, really. At that time it felt like the only jobs in architecture were editing and curating, as if because there was no architecture work, we were all just designing our own discipline, shaping the discourse, and curating existing work. I learned a lot about editing by working on Volume’s Counterculture issue, which had a lot of very long and rambling interviews with all kinds of people who influenced design in the 1960s. I also got to write some of the editorials and worked with Archis and Irma Boom (a personal hero of mine!) to get the content formatted and published.
What are issues you’ve encountered with how architecture is portrayed “in the media?” How do you think the world of architectural writing and criticism can be improved to be more widely understood and accessible, if it should be?
I think we’re still stuck in some outdated paradigms. For example, the insistence on showing architecture without people (Unhappy Hipsters is still one of my all-time favorite tumblrs) and the primacy of showing finished products with very little process has continued to make the design process mysterious and inaccessible. Plus the fixation on starchitects that is perpetuated by the apprenticeship model of licensure also doesn’t help.
I think architectural writing and criticism exist more or less in academic and commercial forms, and I wish there were more outlets that fell outside of these spheres and didn’t have to always take itself so seriously. I think Instagram inherently has some opportunities to help with this because of the image-caption format and the immediacy of its influence. People outside of architecture are starting to do really interesting work to make Instagram more accessible with alternative captions and stories that I’m interested to learn more about.
How do you understand and navigate the different audiences for your work? There’s the casual Instagram viewer, the journalist, the user, the client, the potential client, the stakeholder, etc… Is there one language for all of this or do you find yourself constantly translating?
While I recognize that there are a bunch of different audiences, I also think that the medium of Instagram in some way equalizes these differences and simplifies their interests: at the end of the day, I’m assuming everyone on our Instagram is just someone who is interested in our work. Some are journalists, some are architecture students, many are supporters and champions of our work, and some are probably passing through and ended up on our feed randomly. In that way, I can use the same language for everything, although I do err on the side of more explanation, rather than less.
We’re asking everybody this… How do you communicate mood?
Is it lame to say emojis?
Studio Gang is currently seeking a Digital Communications Coordinator/Manager in Chicago.
Thumbnail image courtesy Studio Gang.