Dear Everyone, It’s Time to Share the Secrets of Architecture with You

Evil-Plotting-Raccoon

Evil Plotting Raccoon Architect

Architects are a sorrowful bunch that love to lament about their low pay, long hours, and stressful lives.  On top of poor working conditions and compensation, architects are cursed to perpetual dissatisfaction with the buildings around them. Architecture star Frank Gehry made headlines last year by proclaiming during an interview, “In the world we live in, 98 per cent of what gets built and designed today is pure shit.”

Frank Gehry responds to critics during a press conference in Oviedo, Spain Photo via: Faro de Vigo

Frank Gehry responds to critics during a press conference in Oviedo, Spain. Photo via: Faro de Vigo

It’s impossible to trace the underlying source of this occupational dissatisfaction but I believe architects are underpaid, undervalued, and underutilized because most people perceive them as irrelevant to their personal lives.  When are you ever going to need to know anything about architecture?  The only people who hire architects are wealthy home owners, bank CEOs, and the International Olympic Committee. Right?… WRONG!

There are 1001 reasons to understand the implications and intentions of design.  Armed with knowledge about design, you can influence town planning policies, raise money for community projects, or even just arrange your furniture a little more gracefully.

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The High Line, in New York City wouldn’t exist if not for a core group of concerned citizens, the Friends of the High Line. Photo via: Friends of the High Line

Architects horde an enormous wealth of knowledge and share just a portion of that knowledge with the general public. Most architects in the US go to school for around 6 years and then continue to learn in an internship for 3-5 years before they can even qualify for licensure.  The vast majority of our publications are targeted at other architects or at potential clients. In general, architects are trained to impress people rather than educate them.

This is where I come in.  One day when I was in the shower, pondering why architects don’t invest in public education, I made a connection.  I thought, “Is architecture too nerdy, too uncool, to become a mainstream interest? It can’t be! There’s a Science Channel!  Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the most popular celebrities on the internet!  What are scientists doing to make their nerdy ideas so cool?”  So I researched and discovered the field of 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.  Scientists have been embracing the practice of science communication because it helps them inform policy makers, secure funding for important research, and navigate ethical issues.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the current king of science communication.  Photo via: Patrick Eccelsine / Fox

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the current king of science communication. Photo via: Patrick Eccelsine / Fox

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 use science communication strategies to write weekly posts about complex architecture topics such as phenomenology, regionalism, and parametric design — issues my fellow grad students are tackling right now in school.  Real. Serious. Design topics that you’ll never hear about on HGTV, the newspaper, or even NPR.

In addition to my weekly posts here, I will write about science communication strategies and how architects can use them on my other blog, Popularizing Architecture.

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