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Illustrations by Michelle Goldchain.
Illustrations by Michelle Goldchain.

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Speaking in Archemoji

Architecture and design motifs, in tiny pictures

What was it about a tiny picture of Kim Kardashian’s be-thonged rear that triggered the idea? Announced December 21 on Instagram, the reality TV star’s custom emoji set—ugly cry face, waist trainer, Yeezy Boosts, hair flip—were cartoons of cartoons of cartoons. Her examined life, captured on Instagram, hardened into pixels. The language was out there, now it was yours to make into speech, just $1.99 on the App Store. I watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians on Sunday nights, intercut with the house bitchery on Downton Abbey, so I recognized most of the memes from which they were derived. All from tiny pictures no bigger than my fingernails, which, thanks to Kim, I could now mime painting black, like a boss.

Architecture emoji brutalism rabbithole
"Fell into a Brutalism rabbithole online."

Kimoji are a rebus of past acts, an alphabet made to be used by a visually savvy online community who participate by adopting, adapting, and commenting. Kim and her people saw that she had made her own visual tribe, and now that tribe can show their colors in the teeny-tiny space of a status update. Kim has her French-manicured middle finger. So why can't our tribe have ours?

Architecture people are also a visual crew, adopting, adapting, and commenting on the follies that scroll across our screens. We’ve long been using words, pictures, and the occasional GIF to communicate our collective enthusiasm for modernism, maximalist décor, parks in the air, in a moat, or in the river (anywhere but underground or in a shipping container).

Architecture design emoji Noguchi coffee table
"Noguchi coffee tables are, like, so over."

Architecture Twitter has connected the Brutalists, the Infrastructuralists, and the Futurists across continents. Internet friendships have made my life as a critic much less lonely, and organizing for the defense much easier. Part of the joy has always been that of recognition: realizing others have similar mental Rolodexes, recalling that house or this project for reference. I love it when Twitter turns into a game of photo tag, jumping from Bjarke Ingels to Frei Otto to Buckminster Fuller. Or when, after posting a photo on Instagram, the image dredges up followers’ childhood memories, encounters with the architect, and more photos shared in turn. #Architecture Instagram may put a gloss on abandoned treasure, but it’s rarely selling anything beyond the ‘grammer’s eye and good taste, adding to the online parade of potential icons. With archemoji we can group these icons—a Duck here, a Decorated Shed there—for lifelong learning.

Architecture emoji tiny house Curbed
"The city’s getting so expensive I may have to pack it in and move to a tiny house community."

Emoji are a way of using a secret language in public, but the architecture-related emoji that are part of the Unicode standard set are a dull lot. Bank, hotel, and hospital are distinguished by letters rather than typology, with the only derivations seen in a classical monument with pediments, a mosque, a church, and a synagogue. Where’s the 20th century, not to mention the 21st? The built environment of emoji is a banal place—unless you hold a particular fondness for transport. This impoverishment of language has forced architecture people to be clever, using more abstract symbols to represent the gable, the ramp, the park, or the stairs. There’s something to be said for making the best of it. As a late emoji adopter, a non-digital-native, I am often impressed. It’s easier for me to remember the year the Guggenheim was completed than it is for me to find the elusive spiral emoji on my iPhone.

But now, we can say it with the Guggenheim (New York or Bilbao). The top archemoji suggestions we culled from social media show certain mutual preoccupations—and you can see them all right here. Our own mini-scandals (Frank Gehry’s middle finger), our own prizes (LEED certification, the Pritzker), our own in-jokes (that f*ing Noguchi coffee table).

Architecture emoji Zaha Hadid
"Like a boss."

Won’t it be nice to just say Heart + Villa Savoie? Or Side Eye + Shipping Container? Sadly, I know I’m going to get a lot of use out of Heartbreak + Wrecking Ball + Boston City Hall, as yet another heroic concrete building goes down. Our spiral is Spiral Jetty. Our angel is the St. Louis Arch—maybe with a little extra sparkle. Our queen doesn’t have a name that starts with K, but with D.

I think I’m going to be using that one a lot.


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