Can Scientists Teach Us How to Be Cool?

neil-degrasse-tyson-rates-the-matrix-movies-and-more
Neil deGrasse Tyson during an interview with Business Insider

Everyone knows that scientists are nerdy and architects are cool.  But wait, if that’s really the case, where is the Architecture Channel?  Where is Jon Hamm the Architecture Man?  If architects really are cooler than scientists, why don’t we exist in the main stream like they do?

Well, scientists have been using a secret weapon to make themselves heard, understood, and most importantly, cool.  That secret weapon is science communication.

In short, science communication refers to the presentation of science-based topics to non-experts.  It includes journalism, blogging, tv shows, documentaries, and testimonials.  In recent years, universities, communications experts, and specialized non-profits have been training scientists how to use humor, storytelling, and metaphors to entertain and educate.

What have architects been doing?

Photo from an interview with Carl Turner, winner of the RIBA Manser award. (Paperhouses.co)
Architect Carl Turner, winner of the 2013 RIBA Manser Award. (Paperhouses.co)

Not that.

And we wonder why we are underpaid, our design services undervalued, and no one wants to invest in high quality design. If more people became familiar with the capability of design to improve life, perhaps demand would rise.  If more people became informed of the dangers of unsustainable building, of automobile-centric cities, of suburban sprawl, then maybe our world would end up a little better.

Professor Peter Murray, Visiting Professor of Design and Business Communication at IE University recalls on YouTube:

“I can remember when I worked at Architectural Design Magazine in the 1970s.  All the people, all the young architects who came to us with their work to be published, those are people who are now, some 40 years later, at the height of their professions. Norman Foster is one of the people who came to us, Richard Rogers, Grimshaw…”

Unfortunately, there is a frightening shortage of resources available for architects to learn more about communicating with the public. Throughout our training, we practice presenting to clients and to other architects but we hardly ever consider presenting to anyone else.

Luckily, it’s phenomenally easy for architects to take advantage of the lessons taught by science communicators.  The text below is transcribed from Melissa Marshall’s TED talk on science communication, Talk Nerdy to Me.  I’ve simply exchanged any mention of scientist or engineer with architect and the excerpt maintains perfect sense:

“We desperately need great communication from our scientists and engineers architects in order to change the world!  Our scientists and engineers architects are the ones that are tackling our grandest challenges from energy to environment to healthcare, among others, and if we don’t know about it and understand it, then the work isn’t done.  I believe it’s our responsibility as non-scientists non-architects to have these interactions but these conversations can’t occur if scientists and engineers architects don’t invite us in.”

After cracking open a couple of science communication text books, I realized almost any text about science communication makes just as much sense if you replace the word scientist with architect.  All of a sudden, I saw a wide world of possibility for architects wishing to increase the relevance of their profession.  For the next 13 weeks, I will write weekly posts examining a wide array of science communication strategies and how architects can easily use these methods to educate and entertain.

In addition to my weekly posts here, I will publish posts on my other blog, Place Exploration, that demonstrate science communication strategies as applied to architectural writing.  Like many scientists, I’m excited to start a new experiment.