Lots of young architects want to start their own firm. A lot of architecture students expect that one day they’ll have their own projects built under their own names, created from their own designs. Most of the time these dreams flounder on the rocks of ignorance because no part of architecture training is centered around helping designers find their own clients.
Lots of young architects also spend time on Instagram. Usually, it’s nothing more than a nice distraction from slaving over your boss’s projects and silently staring out the window, daydreaming about what you would name your own firm. But one French designer has figured out a way to use his time on Instagram to break out on his own. Cyril Lancelin uses the platform to post the work of his office Town & Concrete (@town.and.concrete).
His work is playful (a recent project was a pyramid of what looked like glowing pink balloons), but also so realistic that you’d be forgiven for thinking his posts are out of a trendy design magazine. Hyperrealistic renderings are nothing new; Peter Guthrie and other digital artists have been blurring the line between rendering and reality for years, but Lancelin has found a way to render for the Instagram generation, illustrating his designs as though they were real destinations snapped for his friends to like. All that’s missing is a selfie.
Lancelin trained as an architect and lives and works in Paris and Lyon, France. He learned to render in school and has since done hundreds of visualizations for various firms and artists. In the spring of 2016, he started posting some renderings of a house that he was working on and got a few dozen likes. He kept posting more images of proposed or hypothetical projects, almost exclusively showing eye-level renderings in Instagram’s square format.
There were no plans or diagrams or much text to explain the projects weren’t real. To someone casually flipping through their “Explore” page, there would be no reason to think that his images weren’t from someone’s Palm Springs vacation. The comments sections are filled with people asking “Where is this?” or “Wow, would love to visit! Location?”
Then, in July of 2017, Instagram featured him on its official page. His account now has close to 20,000 followers, and new posts get thousands of likes. With the media attention have come requests from potential clients. “I have been approached by a big American company to work on an art installation and by some cities who would like some installations to come in their town.”
Although many of his projects are purely theoretical, they’re not the kind of impractical paper architecture that could never get built. Instead, Lancelin says that he takes a cue from the fashion industry, where a young designer will propose a realistic project in the hopes that a potential client will find it, like it and want to commission more.
Lancelin’s work rises above the turbulent waters of competition entries, thesis projects and creative doodles because it blends classic precedents with an eye for exactly what works now. “I try to imagine a postcard view like images of the Stahl House by Pierre Koenig in Los Angeles or the Arango House in Acapulco by John Lautner. I keep getting images of those houses in my mind. They are classics, and I like to think about what makes them so special,” he says. “It’s the house, of course, but also the photo, too, is a good part of their success.”
Julius Shulman’s 1960 photograph of Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House 22 or Stahl House
Rather than resisting the rise of social media, Lancelin does what savvy designers have done for generations: He has figured out what worlds new media have opened up. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook; whatever you may think of them, they allow young designers to communicate with millions of potential clients who would have previously been inaccessible. Instagram also thrives off of exactly the kind of visuals that architects are trained to make.
The internet has always been about bringing people together, and this isn’t lost on Lancelin. He seems quite happy to be making the most of his new followers. “Some very interesting clients are contacting me, and I am very excited to work with them. A good project is often a good collaboration.”