Turning STEM into STEAM

Feb 27, 2017

Science, technology, engineering, and math are great, and adding art to the mix can elevate all of them.

It’s an age-old debate: Right brain or left? Science or art? Or today’s version: STEM or the arts? As architects, we’ve struggled to pick a side because our profession pulls equally from both the sciences and the arts. But, with education funds shifting toward STEM and away from the arts, we need to be honest with ourselves. We need both. And it’s time we stand up for ourselves.

From STEM to STEAM. Some may say, “With a focus on science, technology, engineering, and math we can improve our economy and come out on top in global competition.” Those same people might say that STEM is our gateway to new environmental solutions for our planet, life-changing product development for healthcare, and computing innovations that break down barriers around the world. While these may be correct, there’s more to the story.

Truth is (to borrow a phrase), all science and no art make Jack a dull boy. With many fields being commoditized through technology, the only way to compete in a global market is through innovation born of creativity. Engineering is design after all. Music brings math to life and dance explores the limits of the human body. Creative or cultural content is often the critical differentiator that makes something marketable.

To move us all forward, we need both the arts and sciences. Changing STEM to STEAM (including the arts) is essential to business, our economy, and our profession.

STEAM in action – the A/E office. Look no further than an A/E office to see why STEAM, an integration of science and art, drives success and innovation. For example, in a single day, the members of our team at CSArch may be practicing and exploring:

Earth science:

  • Measuring where the sun will rise and set, regional weather and wind patterns, and more so we can refine site selection and design lighting and heating systems
  • Studying geothermal properties to assess opportunities to capitalize on the earth’s heat to optimize energy usage


  • Conceptualizing the massing and shape of a new building or addition
  • Drawing, sketching, or illustrating a new façade for a historic building
  • Brainstorming the right combination of materials, textures, color, furniture, and more to create a space conducive to evolving human needs

Social sciences:

  • Integrating lessons in cultural anthropology, psychology, sociology, and more to make sure doors can be found, stairs can be climbed, and rooms feel comfortable and welcoming

Computer/information technology:

  • Using software such as AutoCAD, Revit, and BIM to bring concepts to life for clients and their stakeholders
  • Implementing an array of digital project management, time management, collaboration tools and more to help the entire team communicate and work together


  • Presenting to a school board, advocating for our solutions, and demonstrating the value of the project
  • Speaking on a panel, sharing our expertise to help move our industry forward
  • Hosting a lunch-and-learn event for our staff, creating an experience to help the team grow personally and professionally


  • Calculating the cost of a current project, or helping a client understand what future projects and ongoing development may entail


  • Generating reports to communicate concepts, details, and specifications for a project.
  • Composing copy for proposals so prospective clients understand our value and abilities
  • Developing case studies, articles, or marketing materials to share our work with others

What’s architecture without the arts? Music programs can’t maintain their instruments. Theater courses have lost their stage to perform. Drawings and handwritten letters are becoming things of the past.

STEM is important and we can’t ignore this. But we’re remiss to think that architecture as we know it can survive without advocacy for the arts. With a simple inclusion of the letter A in the push for STEM, we could make all the difference for the future of our profession.

Randy Collins is president and founding principal of CSArch. He can be reached at rcollins@csarchpc.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.