I am really excited about the possibilities of using QR codes out in the real world. If that sounds a bit ironic for such a virtual entity, it is not meant as such. If you don’t already know, a QR code is a funny little black-and-white image, kind of like a bar code. With the proper application installed on a smart phone, you can take a picture of the code and it will take you to a website. Marketing companies love these things as they have yet another tool to let us know of the amazing one-day sale or spectacular promotion. I like the idea of using QR codes because I work in the future business.
Like all architects I spend my time drawing, thinking, making things that don’t yet exist. All of our methods of drawings, our making of models, the building of 3D computer representations, all are trying to make sure that we understand what we are doing and that hopefully our clients do too. The buildings of this world however are not just the property of the architects and owners. They exist in the world, they have neighbors. Whenever we start construction on a project a shudder of fear goes through the neighbors as contractor’s and architect’s signs go up. If it is a big project, then a glossly, lurid 3D image of the project gets on the sign. For everything else, a mystery ensues – “what are they building?”.
I have recently been placing a self-generated QR code on my standard project signs in front of construction sites. The code takes you to a post on my blog with a description of the project, both verbal and visual. You may say that you don’t want to provide the public with even more reason to send you nasty emails, but I think architecture is a public art and our responsibility to the public is as great a task as satisfying our clients and ourselves. If you are afraid that people will access the code, see the images of the finished project and protest, then I think you should examine your design process. I don’t at all mean that I think we should design to make everyone happy, but any architect ought to be able to at least explain to anyone why the project is the way it is, regardless of context. Frankly, I think a link to what the building will look like when finished will more often ease fears. Remember, the QR code goes up with the sign at the start of construction – nothing strikes more fear in neighbors than backhoes and excavators and no knowledge of the future.
For the last number of months I have also been serving as a member of the City of Boulder’s Landmarks Board. When a project comes into us for review, we post a standard public notification sign outside the subject property. As sign space is limited, it gives a very brief description of the proposed project – no images, no plans. I am trying to encourage the City to include a QR code on these signs with access to the submittal materials of the project – elevations, site plans, descriptions and sometimes model images. I know that many property owners are not interested in letting out more information of their project, but frankly this stuff is all publicly accessible when submitted and I think the project and the city are better served with more information, not less.
I know everyone doesn’t have a smart phone. This is not a universal solution. But in cases such as new construction in your neighborhood, providing sufficient visual information about what is to come rather than a one sentence description is a positive move. This is especially true in historic districts where neighbors feel a kind of stewardship over not just their own house, but the neighborhood as well. You can’t fit half a dozen images, site plans and project descriptions on a sign unless that sign was so large the neighbor’s would protest the sign itself. If QR codes can get us closer to an informed public, let’s use them. There is nothing worse than an ill-informed NIMBY.