Janne Ryan on the role of media & storytelling in Architecture

We spoke to Janne Ryan – the influential producer of Radio National’s must-listen program on design, By Design, feature writer for two of Australia’s prominent newspapers, and Founding Executive Producer of TEDxSydney. Janne shares her insight on the role of the media and storytelling in architecture.

You’ve been involved with architects and designers for a long time in various media roles. What are some of the successful and unsuccessful ways they generally deal with media?

My experience developing and producing stories about architects and designers is overwhelmingly positive and successful. Both architects and designers, in partnership with their clients, have powerful stories to tell about our culture, even if they are not fully aware of that power and role. Often architects and designers confuse their storytelling with publicity – they want to promote their project. The larger and more important story is the one of how we live, how our cities are changing, and ultimately the profound role architecture (in particular) changes the way we are – spiritually, aesthetically and culturally. Architecture, when done well, really draws our attention to our values and beliefs. It’s complex, never-ending work, but the role of storytelling through media is significant in bringing architecture to everyone. It should be taught in schools.

What role can media exposure potentially play in positioning an architecture or design firm? 

It is critical. Without media exposure, and there are many layers to this exposure, an architecture or design firm will not cut through. Architecture and design exists in the world, not in a vacuum. It’s a living beast! But there is a business imperative here too. The more confident and practiced the relationship between architecture and design firms and the media, the more trust builds. The media is people, and it is important to get to know these people (people like me) and understand where they are coming from too. Marketing and PR are part of this, but the authenticity of the storytelling and participants is the powerful content that draws people in.

Given you’ve seen many Australian and international architecture projects, how do you believe Australian architecture compares on a global field?

Australian architecture is confident, that is for sure. Architects in Australia get a lot of chances to build and practice their craft and art. Architecture is about facilitating ideas and relationships, as much as it is about designing, and this is what is needed to really get the confidence of international partnerships. The design element comes out of the relationships. Collaboration is a buzz word, but it is this nuanced and sophisticated process that gives Australian architects the edge here. Confidence is the outcome.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I am out and about reporting (on Twitter @janneryan) about architecture and design, and working on some stories for the AFR Magazine around architecture and clients. But my big personal project at the moment is my philanthropy fund, http://creativemusicfund.com – pioneering new ways of funding and partnering on cultural projects. The Creative Music Fund has just partnered with the Sydney Opera House on Dance Rites. It shows how we can join forces – together we are stronger than apart – to fund and develop cultural projects. I would like to start using this model to fund and develop design and architectural projects.

You’ve recently started studying architecture – why did you decide that was your next step?

I wanted to start thinking more deeply about our culture and how it works, through the prism of architecture and design. It’s been amazing. My focus now is to develop ways of understanding how we ‘brief’ each other, how these stories get told and make for powerful architecture and design, and confident relationships. There’s work to be done.

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