Interview Miguel Llona, with Patrick Kasingsing
Images FIG Projects
Hello, Fabrizio and Francisca! How are you both holding up?
All things considered, quite well. We maintained our jobs. Living in Canada, we have not been subject to very intense restrictions even during the first wave [of the pandemic] a year ago. We have sufficient room at home to not interfere with each other. Like many others, we are a little bit worn-out and are waiting for vaccination so we can travel and see our relatives both in Chile and in Italy.
Can you provide a brief explanation of what FIG Projects is, as well as its beginnings and goals?
We are a research architectural practice, founded in 2003 in Santiago, Chile (and have been quite nomadic ever since). We develop cultural projects around architecture: publications, thematic research, and curatorship of exhibitions.
Did you have an inspiration or model you followed when you started FIG Projects?
Not really. The idea was just for us to work together, bringing in our knowledge from previous experiences. We never really thought or think about whom to look at as examples. We just did what we wanted.
What would you say separates or distinguishes FIG Projects from other content sites in terms of its intent? What governing principle influences the contents you put out?
First and foremost, our production of content is not commercial; we want to share what piques our curiosity and that we believe is worthy of attention from others. In that sense, we come back to the ethos of bloggers in the early ‘00s, when the idea of gratuitous exchange was at the core of their action before this unbearable idea to make money off of the Internet took flight. Now that we have reached a good threshold of visibility, Facebook proposes that we “monetize” our audience, and we always turn down the offers.
Interestingly, you have a website and yet use Facebook as your main platform. Is there a reason for this?
The website is the “slow” part [of our process], where projects that take months or years of elaboration are uploaded—all of them, whether executed or not. It is a free depository of ideas for everyone to get inspired. The Facebook page is the “fast” part, where we post content that we find and believe can be circulated widely daily, not really planned and quite spontaneous.
Why choose Facebook over a more image-oriented platform like Instagram?
We grew up with Facebook, we were subscribed through academic accounts before it opened to all in 2006. So, we just stayed there. Also, Facebook allows to do things that Twitter or Instagram cannot: texts can be longer than on Twitter and links are active, something not yet possible with Instagram.
What do you think is the value that social media brings to architecture, and art in general? How could it benefit architects and designers?
Distance is abolished; we find content from all corners of the world. In the same way, we could reach audiences that would not be possible with other media. Our followers are from Egypt, Thailand, Mexico, Peru, or Taiwan.
What do you hope would be the FIG Projects’ contribution to the overall discourse on architecture and its allied arts? Is there a specific agenda that you want to push when it comes to your curation of content?
We have a bullet point list of things that interest us: not too well-known (everyone can post about Le Corbusier or Herzog and de Meuron); not before 1945; promoting younger authors—under 30 or 25; triangles; drawings; architecture IS politics; long reads; exposed concrete; outside of NATO/from other practices; and cinema, visual arts, graphic design or music.
Take us through your process of curating/selecting the content you publish. Do you have themes set for specific periods, and do you take suggestions or inspirations from some of your followers or fellow architects/designers?
Very simple, once we bump into something that we like online (but it can also be something in the analog world—a book, a magazine, an exhibition), we then look for the original authors, further information, data, and materials. Then we write something original, never just copy-paste—and upload images and text. We always try to credit everyone involved. In less than one hour, a new post is up—often a lot less. When we are in the mood, we might post several in a row, and some other times we get lazy and have gaps of days between one and the next.
Who’s the average FIG Projects follower? What do you think are their expectations from your page?
We never carefully studied who they are, but we speculate that they are mostly architects or architecture students between 25 and 50, really from everywhere. We don’t really care about their expectations: we put things that we appreciate ourselves and if others join in, all the better. We are not a magazine that would issue stuff because it is the mandate—we are honest in what we share. We would do what we do, no matter the followers; 10 or one million for us is the same.
Do you communicate with your followers regularly? Would you say that there is a healthy interaction between you and your followers that in turn influences the kind of content that you put out?
We read comments, incorporate corrections when suggested, get a few messages here and there, and we sometimes accept proposals, but ours is already a quite huge effort—and for free—so we do not have time to really pro-actively engage. We are just two [people] who have other jobs, have other FIG Projects activities. Let’s make it clear: our Facebook page is not our job and since 2014, we have not made a penny off of it.
How do you want FIG Projects to be seen and remembered by your followers, and by professionals in architecture and the allied arts in general?
We are proud to say that in the past, we have generated more interactions in total numbers than Dezeen or ArchDaily—with [our content only being] a tiny fraction of their posts, resources and staff. So we know that we have an impact. We hope that people realize that we operate a careful selection of content, that we add our interpretations, and that we are just not repeating press releases sent to us.
How has the pandemic affected your Facebook page, in terms of the content that you provide and the followers you attract? Has your base grown during this period, and what does that tell you?
No, we have not registered any strong change. Growth is stable. Now we have 78,000 followers, all organic, never reached through advertisement. We also cannot really understand how algorithms work. For instance, last summer we had a huge spike in numbers because a group of posts from 2019 were massively shared, especially in Mexico, and we have no clue why that happened.
Would you say that what you are doing with FIG Projects is also a statement in possible formats and ways design journalism could be made more incisive, approachable, and inclusive? It is no secret that most of the world’s biggest design sites and titles are still mostly western-centric in content and approach.
Yes, we hope to contribute to the sabotage of that old and stale western-centric idea, although we are well aware that it is where we come from. Every time that we traveled with sufficient time to get immersed in another context, it was clear how the myth of a “center” of intellectual production and “periphery” is an utterly ridiculous paradigm, especially in our contemporary world.
Artistic disciplines are fast blurring into each other and FIG Projects has been swift to cover these intersections. Why is this a welcome development and why should architects and other designers not fear the possibilities interdisciplinary projects and expressions can offer?
Dorothy Parker famously wrote: “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” We think architecture is a practice that can learn from everything and everyone because ultimately, it has to accommodate life. Architects who are not interested in what happens around them are inevitably bad architects. If you pass through university to get an architecture degree, you have no excuses for ignorance.
Being architects yourselves, what has this project made you realize about the field of architecture? Has it broadened your knowledge and made you come to realizations that you didn’t foresee having before?
That we still know so little and that out there, thousands of authors, projects, ideas that we don’t know will continue to surprise and excite us. We think that we have been very healthily shaken out of a certain arrogance of “knowing it all” that we might have cultivated some 15 years ago.
What does the future hold for FIG Projects?
For what is of FIG Projects online, it won’t change significantly. We will continue to feed it with interesting content, we hope. We are itching for something “real”; travel, curate an exhibition where you have a hammer in your hands and put stuff against a wall, meet people not through a screen, go to a print shop to check tests for a book. •
Architectural intersections at @figprojects
Miguel Llona is a writer who has written for numerous print and online publications. He was a former editor at BluPrint magazine, and served as a marketing consultant for an interior design firm.