One minute, he’s sitting in a fast-food restaurant in a three-piece suit, twirling his moustache and miming popping a glock to the sounds of Polo G and Lil Tjay. The next, he’s standing at a traffic intersection, extolling the virtues of protected bicycle lanes. This is Mr Barricade, the social media persona of California traffic engineer Vignesh Swaminathan, who introduces niche topics with succinct panache to audiences that might never have stopped to consider the radius of a curb or the racial history of pedestrian crossings. His strangely alluring cocktail of dad dancing and traffic chat has garnered more than 30m likes. Or maybe it’s all thanks to that magnificent moustache.
The worlds of architecture, design and urbanism on TikTok can be confusing places to the uninitiated. Users swerve between educational explainer videos, interior design advice, and “Hey guys, here’s a cool building I found on the internet” monologues, along with thoughtful criticism and unbridled ranting. Plus there’s oodles of property porn to sate your Through the Keyhole desires.
At one end of the spectrum are the gilt-edged estate agent influencers, like Beverly Hills-based Aaron Grushow, who promises behind-the-scenes tours of “LA’s most incredible homes”. Watching these sun-kissed clips of gaudy McMansions elicits less envy than horror at the grotesque tastes of Hollywood’s bajillionaires.
Such homes are neatly skewered by the likes of Zillow Gone Wild, which revels in the weirdest and wildest corners of the real estate listings site. The disembodied head of Samir Mezrahi floats around the screen, offering deadpan commentary on the owners’ curious interior design choices. One day it might be an innocuous Pennsylvania house that turns out to have its own wrestling ring. The next, it’s a home with a secret underground cave. A personal favourite was the house with a staircase that had carpet running up just one side – because, as Mezrahi surmises, “sometimes you wanna be cosy, and sometimes you’re all business”.
There are plenty of practical how-to accounts that seem to tap into the inexhaustible Marie Kondo market for compulsive organising. Marvel at how feng shui expert Cliff Tan manages to fit a family of six into a 13x13ft room, or turns a narrow loft space into a compact home office. His ingenious solution for a cupboard-sized bedroom has racked up almost 6m views – no doubt useful for fitting out Britain’s rabbit hutch homes.
Elsewhere, you can tour the architecture of video games and memes (and fast food reviews) with Sssscavvvv, or wonder at the mysteries revealed by Design Secrets, explaining why Pringles are shaped the way they are, why barns are red, or why vintage cartoon characters all had neck collars.
TikTok’s selfie monologuing format has also spawned a range of young critics, perhaps none as enthusiastically outraged as Louisatalksbuildings, whose passionate hatred of New York’s 432 Park Avenue made her an overnight sensation. More recent targets for her quick-fire ridicule include London’s Marble Arch mound. For a deeper dive, there are a number of local historians, such as Chicago’s Shermann Dilla Thomas, AKA 6figga_dilla. His videos have delved into everything from the history of the street grid, to wooden-paved roads and the story behind the city’s “shit fountain”.
For urbanism fans, there are plenty of accounts to unearth, one of the most popular being TalkingCities, run by Paul Stout. His introductory videos to the basics of urban design range from showcasing Japanese manhole covers to the geeky wonders of Dutch roundabout design. And for a fury-inducing window on to the sheer mindlessness of car-centric planning, none beat Pedestriandignity. His videos chart the urban landscape’s hostility to people on foot or in wheelchairs, as he wanders America’s endless verges, gutters and hard shoulders in search of that simple human requirement: a decent pavement.