Architects’ Works Find a Niche in the Digital Age

In recent months, several new apps have focused on specific works of architecture, like Richard Neutra’s VDL Studio and Residences, Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House #22 and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, bringing those masterworks into the digital age. The latter two were created by in-D media, a California-based company that has been producing architecture videos and CD-ROMs since the late-’90s and last year began transferring its wealth of content into mobile app form.

With videos, sumptuous color photography and virtual room tours, the company’s apps, which sell for about $5 to $10 at the iTunes store, are so transporting you may find yourself looking for the gift shop afterward.

The company’s founder, Timothy Sakamoto, who created the apps with his business partner, Jochen Repolust, recently talked about the small but growing niche of i-architecture.

Given how detailed these apps are, I’m curious if you have a background in architecture.

I’m a licensed architect in California. I discovered early on that working for one architect limits you in learning about other types of architecture being created. By making videos and interactive CD-ROMs, I thought I’d be able to visit historically significant buildings, learn from them and convey that knowledge. When the iPad came out, I started researching what making an app would entail.

Do you think apps are a better way to experience great architecture than the videos you produced?

I think the ideal platform is a mobile app: it gives you intimacy, a connection. You interact with it more like a book, but it comes with advantages that you just don’t have with books, like being able to watch video or take an interactive tour.

Another thing is the color quality of the photographs. The colors are luminous. Even an art book with high-quality printing doesn’t compare to the iPad.

One of the best features about the Fallingwater app is the way you can zoom in and out on the home’s floor plan and select photos.

I think the big difference is how you interface with the iPad. With a CD-ROM you use a mouse, so you’re two feet from the computer screen, removed from the process. On the iPad, by swiping your finger, you get this tactile experience that’s closer to experiencing the tactile world of architecture. It feels that much closer to being there.

Who is downloading these apps? Architecture students? Design geeks?

The users tend to be architects and people in the design field. Often they haven’t been to these buildings, even though they’ve been to architecture school.

You get some people saying, “Nine ninety-nine for an app, that’s outrageous!” People think of apps as games, and they want to pay 99 cents. But a book of this nature would be $50. If anything, with the Fallingwater app, we put too much content on there.

Zaha Hadid has released an app to showcase her firm’s work. Do you think other architects will follow suit?

I think architects in general are into gadgets, and some have approached us about making an app for them. The reality is the cost is prohibitive, and it doesn’t make sense right now because it wouldn’t do much more for them than having a Web site.

Yes, there’s the cachet of being on the iPad, instead of saying, “Go to my Web site.” But there’s also an ongoing maintenance cost, an upgrading cost. And because you need an iPad to view the material, it has a limited audience.

What other buildings or architects do you plan to give the app treatment to?

We’re working on one for Taliesin West. It’s an update of the DVD we produced and should be out in a month or two. I think we might be heading to Europe. There are some early Modernist architects like Le Corbusier that have a lot of appeal.

There are a lot of fantastic buildings all over the world, and only a few people can visit many of them in person. But we could make a super app.

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