In most interviews with architects, you’ll notice they tend to talk with fingertips crossed, a solemn look of contemplation, and the cadence of a dish washing machine. They use a posture that has evolved over time that portrays intelligence and authority. Is that the right way to broadcast a message to a broad audience though?
Randy Olson, a scientist-turned-filmmaker-turned-science-communication-author, argues that anyone–scientists in particular–must appeal to more than just intellectuals to reach a large audience. In his book, Don’t Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style, he describes The Four Organs Theory of Connecting with the Mass Audience,
“When is comes to connecting with the entire audience, you have four bodily organs that are important: your head, your heart, the gut, and your sex organs. The object is to move the process down out of your head, into your heart with sincerity, into your gut with humor, and, ideally, if you’re sexy enough, into your lower organs with sex appeal.”
Like scientists, most architects dwell in the area of the head. They use head-heavy communication to discuss the ins and outs of programming requirements, code issues, and structural strategies. These architects aren’t likely to capture the interest of the average Joe.
Some architects paint emotional images of sensual retreats or cities plunging below the globally warmed oceans. These architects appeal to the passionate ones–people driven by their hearts. “Heart people” are more prone to sentimentality, quick to fall in love, and they are emphatic believers in faith. Generally there are many more “heart people” than “head people” in the world.
The gut is where humor and instinct live. I know many architects who are funny, but I don’t know many famous architects who are known for their sense of humor. Maybe it’s a sign that humor is best left out of architecture, but maybe we just haven’t realized its potential yet. Bjarke Ingels comes to mind when I search for gut-oriented architects but that’s about it. Architecture is a very serious business, affecting the well-being of every human being on earth, but so is science, and they’ve got plenty of funny science personalities. My science communication heroes, Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson often crack jokes while blowing our minds with science. Architects may dress in all black and think deeply about whether walls have conversations with furniture but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a sense of humor. Slap happy all-nighters in studio give them at least some level of practice at being funny.
Last of all, we arrive at the groin. To quote Randy Olson’s book again,
“All I have to say is ‘penis’ and you’re either physically smiling or internally smiling.”
The sex organs follow no logic, but they powerfully drive the actions of people the world over. Just look at mass media today and you can see they’ve wholly adopted the use of sex appeal. Everyone succumbs to sex appeal. How can architects use sex appeal though? I doubt anyone is going to start giving lectures in bikinis, but we already use sex appeal all the time in renderings. If you based your understanding of the world on architectural renderings, you’d probably think beautiful models just love to hang out in world class museums.
So next time you’re preparing for a presentation, a lecture, a blog, or anything that you want understood, don’t shy away from jokes and sex appeal. They can be vital to capturing a large audience.