“The problem is that traditional power relations and patterns of extraction carry on as usual under a veneer of progressive language,” the anonymous administrators of the Instagram account told Dezeen
“We want to show our followers that critical discourse can be blunt, spontaneous, and rooted in concrete facts while still being conceptually rigorous.”
“Architecture isn’t just an intellectual hobby horse for ivory-tower academics; it also concerns the mundane, daily arena in which we go about our lives,” they said.
Satire in the face of inequity
The @dank.lloyd.wright (DLW) Instagram account takes comic and critical stances against perceived inequities in the architectural field, relying on memes to bring awareness to these problems.
“The admins share a disaffection for architecture that comes from a deep disappointment in its role as a decorator for finance capital,” DLW said.
Their claim to the title of “critics” stems from the fact that social media has become such a prevalent form of self-promotion, and their claim that much of what gets posted to Instagram by firms or other groups goes unchecked.
Starting as a Facebook group and then moving to Instagram during the Covid pandemic, the members of DLW are completely anonymous, and they work together to post memes that lambast high-profile architects, often laced with niche jokes about architectural theory, quips about the building industry and references to communism.
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“The rotating group of admins, the commenters and the people who message DLW are all feeding a parallel discourse where the traditional standards of the field can be challenged, ridiculed, or debated more openly,” DLW said.
Many of the group members are workers in the architecture industry.
“Rather than call out individuals, one should call out concepts”
The content ranges from light-hearted puns about buildings, to political messaging about the labour conditions of architecture, allegations of misconduct at institutions that recall the “Shitty Architecture Men List” from 2018, and posts that aim to educate their followers on issues such as colonialism, white supremacy, and the housing crisis.
The focus of the group ranges from academics and educators to practitioners and journalists, and the group has on occasion taken aim at Dezeen’s coverage of architecture news.
“The etiquette of architectural discourse seems to discourage negative criticism and fact-checking as unproductive and spiteful,” DLW said.
“Rather than dispute claims, one should make alternative claims; rather than call out individuals, one should call out concepts.”
But the group insists that their contribution is, at the end of the day, a positive one that tries to push the field in a better, more equitable direction.
“You can avoid music, television or film, but you can’t avoid architecture,” DLW said. “Normal people can recognize that cities no longer are built for them.”
“Still, all of this activity is ultimately an expression of shared optimism. We all know architecture can (and should) be better.”
See below for an edited transcript of the anonymous interview with the group:
James Brillon: What is dank.lloyd.wright?
DLW: Dank.lloyd.wright is an emerging theorist. We are currently Director of the Centre for Ants.
Dank.lloyd.wright is a collective process of unlearning the dogma of contemporary architecture in its mainstream academic, corporate and elitist cultural forms. The rotating group of admins, the commenters and the people who message DLW are all feeding a parallel discourse where the traditional standards of the field can be challenged, ridiculed or debated more openly. That ranges from the most trivial issues (“Why do architects need to appear polite and humorless to be legitimate?”) to the most significant (“Why do so many architects and academics underpay and mistreat their staff and/or students?”). The feedback on DLW’s efforts shows a broad pattern of self-censorship and fear of calling out powerful people for lying publicly and abusing power privately.
Of course, DLW doesn’t have real power, but it can amplify narratives that are excluded from architecture’s official consensus, and it can deflect backlash or retaliation from harming specific individuals or whistleblowers.
James Brillon: Why did you start DLW? And how?
DLW: Dank Lloyd Wright was reborn as a parasitic pup out of the resuscitated corpse of a Facebook group when Covid-19 was first popping off.
DLW is always evolving based on the admins, the community, and the context. Making memes for 2k followers is different from making memes for 60k followers, so the initial goals of DLW have also been shaped by issues of accountability, privacy, proportionality and interest/fatigue. There are only so many memes you can make about starchitects and the architectural canon…
The initial goal to blow off steam or make funny memes has broadened into more sincere statements, advocacy, evidence presentation (discovered using Google searches, LOL), critiquing texts, etc.
Through it all, DLW is a cope. The admins share a disaffection for architecture that comes from a deep disappointment in its role as a decorator for finance capital. The desecration of our cities, homes and daily environments by financial elites has led so many people to feel fundamental doubts about the current system.
Architecture isn’t just an intellectual hobby horse for ivory-tower academics; it also concerns the mundane, daily arena in which we go about our lives. You can avoid music, television, or film, but you can’t avoid architecture. Normal people can recognize that cities no longer are built for them. Still, all of this activity is ultimately an expression of shared optimism. We all know architecture can (and should) be better.
James Brillon: What was your best meme? What about your most controversial?
DLW: The best meme is the next meme. It’s hard to pinpoint the best ones, but some of our favorites are the ones that don’t get much recognition.
As for our most controversial, our 9/11 memes tend to stir up a lot of anger, especially from our American followers who don’t understand that our jokes are not aimed at the victims but at the sensationalization by American media of the event and how that sensationalization was used to kill millions of people around the world.
Some amazing formats and series have emerged. The “flip the middle finger at a despised building” is a classic. The “close reading” format looking at job ads for hints of exploitative labor conditions had an enormous impact and hopefully gave younger architects or students better tools to make work decisions. Also, there are some surreal stream of consciousness narrative posts which are always a pleasure to come across, as they’re departures from Instagram’s usual hot takes and packaged content.
James Brillon: What kind of backlash have you faced?
Some responses we ignore, some we argue about, and some we respond to in good faith. Many times it’s just a bunch of reply guys who don’t like our opinions on capitalism, imperialism, housing, Palestine, etc. If the meme is doing more harm than good to vulnerable people or the intended meaning isn’t coming across, we usually remove it.
We’ve also received backlash about issues of privacy, relevance, taste, and responsibility. Basically, some people look at DLW through their own lenses – journalistic ethics, neoliberalism, personal loyalties, or instrumentalization of our audience – and disagree with how we use our platform. It’s frustrating when people hold us to higher standards than mainstream media or academic institutions.
If an architect gets funding or institutional backing and uses publications and social media to promote themselves, then it should be okay to use social media to critique their work and challenge false or hypocritical statements. The etiquette of architectural discourse seems to discourage negative criticism and fact-checking as unproductive and spiteful. Rather than dispute claims, one should make alternative claims; rather than call out individuals, one should call out concepts. The problem is that traditional power relations and patterns of extraction carry on as usual under a veneer of progressive language. The awareness of that disconnect doesn’t lead to systemic change, but instead to feelings of disaffection and powerlessness.
We want to show our followers that critical discourse can be blunt, spontaneous, and rooted in concrete facts while still being conceptually rigorous.
James Brillon: Can you talk about the sheer volume of memes you post? How do you post so many, and why?
DLW: DLW is a collaborative effort. If you add up all the time our members make memes on the toilet at work, the result is a good chunk of time specifically allocated to making memes per day.
We post so many because we enjoy getting paid to post memes without our bosses knowing they’re paying us for them. I’m currently typing this on a Bluetooth keyboard to make it look like I’m working. My screen hasn’t moved in an hour, LOL.
We are a colony of worker ants; we have fun making jokes and doing cartwheels together.
We made a decision early on to not chase after viral fame or get stuck in any particular style. The volume comes from our plurality. Lots of shitposting, lots of critique, lots of takes, lots of jokes, lots of history. The algorithm ultimately filters what each follower sees, so our only job is just to keep the content flowing.
James Brillon: What are the next steps for DLW? Is there an end game?
DLW: Are you not entertained?!
We make memes. It’s that simple. We’re also here to support and critique for as long as we can.
However, it would be great if Taschen would respond to our email.
There is no end game other than the gay agenda and trying to build up as much as we critique. That means building alterations to and for our world that aren’t out of touch, questioning what we build (and even destroy) together, how we build and relate to one another… none of which literally suggests a building as the ultimate solution.
Other worlds are possible. Student, worker, and pup solidarity forever. Every pup needs a cute pup or cat meme every now and then.
James Brillon: You’ve taken aim at Dezeen’s coverage of certain projects, would you comment on this?
DLW: It would be great if you stopped promoting useless design objects that will soon populate landfills worldwide. There’s enough plastic in the ocean already.
Why does your editorial model seem to rely on essentially reposting press releases? What criticality is possible in a media environment like this? Is it a need to “feed the beast” to get those clicks and ad dollars, or because you genuinely like the stuff you post? Both? Neither? It would be cool for Dezeen to respond to this because we often wonder why architecture media mostly just posts the latest, shiniest shit.
There is a silver lining to Dezeen’s editorial approach, though. The interviews and features convey exactly what the designer is thinking at a given moment without much moderation. Often people incriminate themselves with extremely unethical opinions or illogical statements that make it into the final text. We don’t have to add anything, we literally just underline and post.
James Brillon: How is your relationship with Instagram? I think you may be shadowbanned (when I search your name, it does not come up as a suggestion unless I type out the whole thing correctly).
DLW: We have been shadowbanned for a while now, and we have put some effort into exiting the shadow realm. Being shadowbanned hasn’t really stopped the growth of the page, so we aren’t too concerned about it for now. We are more concerned about Instagram deleting the page, which has happened in the past to other popular meme pages.
James Brillon: Anything else you’d like to mention?
Our page is run anonymously for important reasons. It insulates the authors from real retaliation, but also means that we can operate without the motives of celebrity and notoriety.
All followers have full permission to say they started Dank Lloyd Wright.