Posted February 21st, 2016 by Tyler Irving

Jonathan Sun: Engineer, architect, social media sensation

  • Jonathan Sun (EngSci 1T1 + PEY) is an engineer, architect, visual artist and social media sensation (Photo: Christopher Sun)

This article is part two of a five-part series on #EngineeringtheUnexpected, in celebration of  the first Global Day of the Engineer on February 24, 2016

City builder? Cultural commentator? Hip-hop aficionado? It’s impossible to label Jonathan Sun (EngSci 1T1 + PEY). He’s trained as an engineer, interdisciplinary architect, visual artist, writer, performer and comedian. He may be best known by his Twitter alias “jomny sun, aliebn confuesed abot humamn lamgauge.” His tweets, which the The Yale Herald has described as “sometimes funny and sometimes moving, but usually both” have earned him more than 130,000 followers and a steady stream of media coverage.

As a high school student, Sun strongly considered studying drama, but changed his mind after meeting with some students in U of T’s Engineering Science program. “They were captains of sports teams, directors of Skule Nite, conductors of orchestras, and so on,” he says. “It really shattered my expectations, to find out that you could apply that engineering thought process to whatever you want to do.”

Sun enrolled in Engineering Science, majoring in infrastructure engineering. In 2012, Sun not only directed Skule Nite — the annual musical-comedy revue produced by U of T’s Engineering Society — but also served as its head writer and oversaw the creation of electroluminescent lightsuits that lit up the performers’ bodies.

After graduating from U of T, Sun completed a Master of Architecture at Yale University. There he studied the emergence of graffiti culture in New York and designed a city block in a master-planned project near Brasilia, Brazil. He also found time to write and workshop a one-act play called Fried Mussels at the Yale School of Drama, and create an installation entitled The Light Column for the New Haven ArtSpace gallery. Upon graduation from Yale, he was awarded the William Edward Parsons Memorial Medal for his distinctive work in city planning.

Sun is currently pursuing a PhD in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I just started my thesis, but at this point my idea is to examine the use of Twitter as a way to understand how the public experiences cities,” he says. For example, analysing tweets could provide city planners with useful feedback on whether public transit is working efficiently, or help them discover new uses for derelict urban spaces. The combination of social media, data science, analysis, design and engineering is a perfect match for Sun’s unique skill set.

As for the future, Sun is still agnostic. He has recently been published in the humour site McSweeney’s, was voted the 5th funniest funniest Twitter account of 2015 by Playboy magazine, and is in the process of recording a hip-hop album. “I’ve realized that I function best when I have a hand in many different things, so I mostly just want to keep doing that,” he says. “I’m very happy being undefinable.”