Communicating architecture

Carolyn Larkin, Founder of Caro Communications, talks about the newly launched Davidson Prize with its focus on communicating design - it seems the options are limitless but which are best....?

As Alan Davidson knew, communication has always been key in the design industries. But the launch of the Davidson Prize casts a new kind of spotlight on communication in design and the built environment. The fact that the new prize, with its inaugural theme of Home/Work – A New Future, has coincided with the great disruptor of the pandemic seems to me a combination that is destined to shake things up.

  • The Davidson Prize Logotype. Brand Identity and Design by dn&co

What’s different about the prize is its focus on communication in architecture as a core design skill. And it’s important to acknowledge that communication in architecture is about far more than a ‘finished’ visual. What it’s really about – today more than ever – is conveying architectural ideas as a way of addressing a whole range of complex challenges. It’s about getting across architects as key thinkers in the increasingly collaborative and cross-disciplinary push towards a positive future for us all.

It’s almost 20 years since Kester Rattenbury pointed out an enduring paradox at the heart of architecture in This is Not Architecture. The conundrum she focused on is that while architects are ultimately concerned with the physical reality of a building, what they in fact rely on for communication is a complex system of virtual representations – both before and after the ‘event’ of a building. So virtual reality is in fact as old as architecture itself.

The range of image-making technologies has since mushroomed, with proliferation too in the availability of channels of communication. Nowadays pretty much all of us have the capacity to make a video on our phone as well as access to numerous freely available platforms for uploading our message. We’ve got used to the idea of watching our cities and buildings materialising digitally before our very eyes even before the designs have left the drawing board.

It was back in 2015 when Bjarke Ingels orchestrated his Two World Trade Centre into virtual reality. Misjudged it may have been but it’s impossible to deny that it had an impact on the communication of design intent:

But behind today’s mindboggling array of digital technologies and shifting proliferation of media channels, I believe some communication principles will remain fundamental:


Verbal and personal communication will lose none of their power – whether in reality or digitally. We’ve all experienced the bluntening of nuance and perception that can occur in the digital realms of Zoom and Teams. The human desire to connect with other people remains undimmed, has even been sharpened by our digital isolation during the pandemic. What’s important is being true to and conveying our authentic selves.

  • Model Mountain by Morris+Company © Jim Stephenson : Click Click Jim

The power of the image

Visual communication is as important as ever, and the killer hero image is still worth a thousand words. But in our era of digitally manipulated aesthetics I believe the imprint of the hand on human-generated visions – whether pen on paper, collage, watercolour or pencil sketch – will take on a renewed potency.

  • Spiral apartment bloc with external stair by Peter Barber

Showcasing ways of thinking

Architecture may ultimately be about solutions but that doesn’t mean that ‘the answer’ is the best place to start the conversation. The kinds of challenges being addressed by architects today are ever more complex, weaving people and technology together in space and time. In future, solutions will be more and more about collaboration – not just with the related disciplines we’re already familiar with but alternative and emerging disciplines.

  • Commuting © Weston Williamson + Partners
  • Curl la Tourelle Head Architects proposal for tent structures to support social distancing at Manorfield School in London © Darc Studio

Architects are uniquely positioned to think outside of the box when it comes to the future, and I firmly believe that this is the most important skill we need to be communicating on their behalf right now.

  • Image created as part of an internal project by Hayes Davidson, October 2020 © Hayes Davidson

The Davidson Prize is a great opportunity for architects to showcase themselves as thinkers and leaders, to review and perhaps rethink their communication and presentation skills, and to experiment with new media and channels. With its focus on multi-disciplinary collaboration, I’m also hoping the prize is going to be a catalyst that sparks many brilliant new cross-disciplinary collaborations into life.

To find out more about the Davidson Prize and to submit an entry, visit the website: