Sophie Hamer established Portico in New Zealand in 2015. Portico is a global community and online platform for aspiring architects, with tools, ideas, perspectives and strategies centred on building a world and life in architecture.
Since its inception, Portico has been a completely personal project – from the vision, to the design, to the content, to replying to emails and presenting at conferences and schools. However, I am currently thinking about how that model might shift and become more collaborative – mainly as I have moved to Switzerland, and my position in the field is changing slightly as I get older and more experienced.
Portico has no affiliations, but the support from the New Zealand Institute of Architects has been immense – sharing the link on the website and awarding a Presidents Medal for Portico in 2017.
Origins and motivations
After finishing university, I taught for a couple of years, before heading into practice. When I was teaching and studying, I was aware of the amount of confusion, concern and fears that seemed to be part and parcel of studying architecture for so many of us. That was particularly true for a number of international students in our universities in New Zealand, who bring really unique perspectives and skills but because of the context often find it difficult to be heard. I was also aware of how special this path is – how bringing together a range of skills around space, place and planning is really unique. I wanted to make that journey more human, more accessible, and more supported. Portico became a way for me to be a tutor after I stopped tutoring, to connect with peers, and to share my experiences to support others.
The main issue Portico aims to address is the inaccessibility of architecture as a potential career. Tied to this is the view of architecture as narrow, white and expensive – as a really delimited profession. Portico champions the idea of an architectural journey – that is, a passage through dreaming, studying, working and living that might be more traditionally about becoming an architect or might be completely different. It is about opening up architecture, opening up our view of architecture, and making it more visible, transparent and accessible.
Audience and communication channels
Portico has a broad audience – from aspiring architects at high school, to current students and some graduates. We also have a range of architectural educators who engage with the platform and use content in their schools and universities. Our website, Portico.space, forms the backbone of communication – with Instagram and Facebook spinning off from this somewhat sporadically. Most of the best conversations happen behind the scenes, in my email inbox, which is full of the most interesting journeys and questions and dreams. Considering that I established the website initially in New Zealand, it has been really interesting to see that we have a large number of our community from India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan, alongside the English-speaking nations.
Activities and action underway
Our primary action is publishing articles and opinion pieces, and profiles of students internationally. I have also presented at international conferences, and through my work on Portico, been part of the New Zealand Institute of Architects local branch and a founding member of the emerging architects network in New Zealand.
I would love to grow Portico so it doesn’t depend on me to run – especially as I gain more architectural experience and have other goals! That means setting up a strategy for other content producers, for guest posting, and for collaborative work. I also believe Portico has an interesting position in the global conversation, and would love to see this rich network developed further. Ideas for international peer-groups or exchanges are in the back of my mind.
The primary challenges for Portico are to do with the setup. One is cost, as it is non-profit and generates no income, but still costs to run. The other is time, as it is my spare time that I somehow have to find around architecture.
The impact of COVID-19
The website audience has grown through the pandemic – more people are looking for information online. I also believe the wider network of architecture content producers has started to take off through the pandemic. There is great content and conversation happening online, and it’s exciting for Portico to be part of this.
Advice to others
It’s a huge goal, but ultimately it is the small everyday steps that make the difference, and continuing to show up for the conversation and people over time. Don’t be afraid to start small.