Last year I got the chance to chat with french architect and photographer Sébastien Lucas about his online project Archiref, which is an web platform that allows architectural photographers to upload images and for architects to collect images for inspiration and organise them in a logical format of building elements called “bricks.” The platform connects with other sites like Flickr with a plan to incorporate others like Pinterest in the coming year. It’s exciting to be able to talk to an architect doing a “startup” and understanding more about what he’s trying to achieve. I’m also an organisation geek so collections and grouping ideas makes sense to me.

Please note: I’ve edited bits and pieces of the interview which were lost in translation (one of my favourite movies by the way).

Quick links

As I was writing this post I came across this cute little clip from Archiref. Enjoy.

Q1. Can you tell me a little about your background?

My name is Sébastien Lucas. I am a french architect and I have worked with several architects in Paris, French Guyana and Mexico. I am also passionated about photography since my first travel in India in 1998. Indeed at that time, I was taking profit of my travels to practice photography along with my architecture day work. So after 6 years of working for architects, I had the opportunity to learn photography in a photo school in Paris for 10 months and started just after working as a professional architectural photographer. At the same time, I was coding my photographer website and developing Archiref project since 2010. I had a small background in web development before, but I needed to teach my self coding from html/css to php, databases, linux server and finally to the drupal CMS on which I have built Archiref. Consequently this took me one and half years to launch the site !

Q2. What problem does Archiref want to solve?

All architects use “inspiration images” that serve as references to designing projects. Those reference images are used as a starting point, a goal to follow, and a way to discuss ideas with the team and the client. Your own projects can also be a source of inspiration. Actually, there are some details that are reused from project to project. It’s not for a lack of imagination, but a way to save time and avoid reinventing the wheel for each project, and it also allows the team to improve the quality of the detail each time they use it. But those reference images are not well shared inside the architect’s company and with the outside world. It’s not an easy task to find reusable elements in the projects and have an bird’s eye view of the available solutions of an architecture problem. Also Architects are communicating mostly on finished projects, but at the same time would like to have a more fluid and real time communication with the public and the architectural community.

Q2. So what is Archiref and how does it work?

Archiref is a community of architectural inspirations. It’s an online platform dedicated to architecture images where architects and photographers can share their architecture, landscape and city inspirations with the community. Anyone can create a free account and upload their project images and inspirations. They can also use their existing images online using our flickr connection and have their images automatically synced. We are planning to make connections with more sites like Pinterest, and Picasa to make this task as easy as possible. The images are associated with a project, a place and with reusable architecture bricks. The bricks are identified by analysing the tags, or texts used to describe the image, and can be identified manually by anyone using the platform. We are also working on an automatic way to associate relevant images to increase serendipity and idea associations.

All images can be added to public collections, that is a simple way to keep track and share inspirations used for a given project, or material search. Bricks [eg, Stairs] are organised to be easily browsable and to allow the comparison of all projects using that brick with the help of great images. While sharing and discussing their projects and inspirations, architects can communicate not only on their finished project, but also on how they are working on a daily basis. They can then start switching to the new collaborative way of working that lot’s of professionals are experiencing currently.

Q3. What was the inspiration behind the project?

We were inspired by several sites and platforms at the crossing of architecture, photography, opensource and social networks, plus other architecture platforms like Architizer, Archello, B2C, Clippings, Houzzz, Pinterest, Github, and Dribble. All are sources of inspirations for us. We try to be complementary to those existing sites and focus on architectural images, and how to make architectural practice more collaborative.

Q4. How many people do you currently have using the platform?

There is at the time of the writing around 500 users, half photographers and half architects. We are still a young platform but we expect to grow rapidly in the next months. We still have lot’s of things left to be done to get known by a broader international audience like blog posting, press release, SEO and above all developing the platform to make it more useful for the architecture community.

Q5. What are the benefits for architects or photographers?

For architects

  • Spread the word about their projects : we believe the more people who use theirs projects images as inspirations, the more new clients can get to know them
  • Find inspirations and be more productive : Architects can quickly find inspirations to inspire their projects and learn to work with reusable elements shared with the community.

You can also read this blog post that talk in depth about 7 reasons to promote your architecture firm on Archiref

For photographers

  • Get their architectural photography works known by architecture professionals that can order them new architectural photo shoots of architectural projects and building products.
  • Make their images useful by participating to a collaborative visual database on architecture As it’s architecture specific, we can organise images in a way that is useful for architecture and help valorise their image archive in a way they deserve.

Q6. How is your platform different from other architecture databases?

We are different from other architecture databases in two ways

  • We focus on images as a way to discover projects and get inspired. For us images is the base content, not projects. This allow us to give photographers a place much more important than in other platforms and facilitate the comparison between projects
  • We want to transform the way architects works thanks to reusable architectural bricks. We want to transform architects way of designing theirs projects by giving them a tool to efficiently reuse and transform projects elements from project to project.

Q6. Can you recommend some of the best pages to check out?

Most important pages are :