Social Media & Public Opinion

Like, comment, share – it’s on every post you scroll by. Social media permeates contemporary culture, facilitating the communication of ideas… and your Aunt’s holiday pictures. With a simple tap or click, we have the ability to express our sentiments. Everything is open to public opinion; architecture is no exception.

Public awareness of proposed schemes has traditionally occurred through exhibitions, community meetings or publications, but with access to technology we are now connecting through our devices. The past decade of major projects have not escaped online debate; Perth Arena was designated a “squashed beer can”, while people decried the ripping of lawn for Elizabeth Quay, and even Colin Barnett has acknowledged the new Perth Museum design proves controversial, suggesting some will love it and others will hate it.1

These remarks tend to arise in response to an ‘artistic impression’ or render, with limited knowledge of the architectural intent or process. Mainstream media does little to ease contention, often focusing heavily on negative time delays and cost over runs. This general perception towards architects is not encouraging; successful projects are often scrutinised and misunderstood. Typically, little is done to encourage the public interest, their understanding and appreciation.2

The Victorian Government attempted to challenge this for their 2012 Flinders Street Station design competition. A unique voting platform was developed to engage the public in a ‘People’s Choice Award’. The Campaign intended to “give people a say, and make it meaningful’.3

‘Peoples Choice App’
Images via August

Importantly, people were asked to rate the six shortlisted designs on four criteria: overall design, transport function, heritage and urban design and precinct integration.4 The app provided insight to the design concepts, sought to increase project exposure and educate the public about the benefits of investing in quality. The criteria based vote contributed a more structured and complex response, providing the Government with informed, considered and articulate public opinions. The people seemingly valued their inclusion, exceeding expectations and delivering results never before seen from a government major project, with 18974 votes received in only two weeks.5

Peoples Choice: University of Melbourne vs Competition Winner: Herzog & DeMeuron + HASSELL
Images via Archinet

Five years on Melburnians remain engaged and empowered to have their say. When Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews used Facebook to announce global tech corporation Apple would be occupying a tenancy in a prominent public place, Federation Square, his post attracted more than 3700 negative responses within the first 24 hours.6 

Apple proposal for Federation Square
Images via Architecture Australia

Former AIA State President David Karotkin said, “The more people talk about design, the more it will be valued and expectations for quality buildings, especially public buildings, will rise”.7 Providing the opportunity for a structured response to major public projects using an app is a more efficient way to manage the incoming feedback, rather than through multiple social platforms. Architects are given insight to localised values and preferences, which can be expanded upon with future development, and it enables the people to contribute to their urban identity, enhancing their civic pride, while also educating them about the value of quality design.


1 Perpitch, Nicholas. “New WA Museum blends old with new in ‘bold, distinctive’ design.” ABC News, 31 Jul 2016. Accessed 06 April 2018.

2 Strahan, Chloe. “Architectural Competitions: Melbournes Central Railways.” UWA Delivering Good Design, 20 October 2017.

3 “The people’s choice.” August Pty Ltd. Accessed 06 April 2018.

4 “Flinders Street Station designs unveiled.” Architecture Australia, 29 Jul 2013. Accessed April 06 2018.

5 “The people’s choice.” August Pty Ltd. Accessed 06 April 2018.

6 Florance, Loretta. “Federation Square Apple store backlash based on ‘misunderstanding’, site designer says.” Architecture Australia, 21 Dec 2017. Accessed 06 April 2018.

7 Emery, Kate. “Quay white elephant warning” The West Australian, 3 May 2014. Accessed 06 April 2018.